Ibn Rushd (Averroes) (1126—1198)

Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd, better known in the Latin West as Averroes, lived during a unique period in Western intellectual history, in which interest in philosophy and theology was waning in the Muslim world and just beginning to flourish in Latin Christendom. Just fifteen years before his birth, the great critic of Islamic philosophy, al-Ghazzali (1058-1111), had died after striking a blow against Muslim Neoplatonic philosophy, particularly against the work of the philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna). From such bleak circumstances emerged the Spanish-Muslim philosophers, of which the jurist and physician Ibn Rushd came to be regarded as the final and most influential Muslim philosopher, especially to those who inherited the tradition of Muslim philosophy in the West.

His influential commentaries and unique interpretations on Aristotle revived Western scholarly interest in ancient Greek philosophy, whose works for the most part had been neglected since the sixth century. He critically examined the alleged tension between philosophy and religion in the Decisive Treatise, and he challenged the anti-philosophical sentiments within the Sunni tradition sparked by al-Ghazzali. This critique ignited a similar re-examination within the Christian tradition, influencing a line of scholars who would come to be identified as the “Averroists.”

Ibn Rushd contended that the claim of many Muslim theologians that philosophers were outside the fold of Islam had no base in scripture. His novel exegesis of seminal Quranic verses made the case for three valid “paths” of arriving at religious truths, and that philosophy was one if not the best of them, therefore its study should not be prohibited. He also challenged Asharite, Mutazilite, Sufi, and “literalist” conceptions of God’s attributes and actions, noting the philosophical issues that arise out of their notions of occasionalism, divine speech, and explanations of the origin of the world. Ibn Rushd strived to demonstrate that without engaging religion critically and philosophically, deeper meanings of the tradition can be lost, ultimately leading to deviant and incorrect understandings of the divine.

This article provides an overview of Ibn Rushd’s contributions to philosophy, emphasizing his commentaries, his original works in Islamic philosophy, and his lasting influence on medieval thought and the Western philosophical tradition.

1. Biography

Ibn Rushd was born in Cordova, Spain, to a family with a long and well-respected tradition of legal and public service. His grandfather, the influential Abdul-Walid Muhammad (d. 1126), was the chief judge of Cordova, under the Almoravid dynasty, establishing himself as a specialist in legal methodology and in the teachings of the various legal schools. Ibn Rushd’s father, Abdul-Qasim Ahmad, although not as venerated as his grandfather, held the same position until the Almoravids were ousted by the Almohad dynasty in 1146.

Ibn Rushd’s education followed a traditional path, beginning with studies in hadith, linguistics, jurisprudence and scholastic theology. The earliest biographers and Muslim chroniclers speak little about his education in science and philosophy, where most interest from Western scholarship in him lies, but note his propensity towards the law and his life as a jurist. It is generally believed that Ibn Rushd was influenced by the philosophy of Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), and perhaps was once tutored by him. His medical education was directed under Abu Jafar ibn Harun of Trujillo. His aptitude for medicine was noted by his contemporaries and can be seen in his major enduring work Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb (Generalities) This book, together with Kitab al-Taisir fi al-Mudawat wa al-Tadbir (Particularities) written by Abu Marwan Ibn Zuhr, became the main medical textbooks for physicians in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim worlds for centuries to come.

Ibn Rushd traveled to Marrakesh and came under the patronage of the caliph ‘Abd al-Mu’min, likely involved in educational reform for the dynasty. The Almohads, like the Almoravids they had supplanted, were a Northwest African Kharijite-influenced Berber reform movement. Founded in the theology of Ibn Tumart (1078-1139), who emphasized divine unity and the idea of divine promise and threat, he believed that a positive system of law could co-exist with a rational and practical theology. This led to the concept that law needed to be primarily based on revelation instead of the traditions of the jurists. Ibn Talmart’s theology affirmed that the existence and essence of God could be established through reason alone, and used that to posit an ethical legal theory that depended on a divine transcendence.

Ibn Rushd’s relationship with the Almohad was not merely opportunistic, (considering the support his father and grandfather had given to the Almoravids) for it influenced his work significantly; notably his ability to unite philosophy and religion. Sometime between 1159 and 1169, during one of his periods of residence in Marrakesh, Ibn Rushd befriended Ibn Tufayl (Abubacer), a philosopher who was the official physician and counselor to Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf, son of ‘Abd al-Mu’min. It was Ibn Tufayl who introduced Ibn Rushd to the ruler. The prince was impressed by the young philosopher and employed him first as chief judge and later as chief physician. Ibn Rushd’s legacy as the commentator of Aristotle was also due to Abu Yaqub Yusuf. Although well-versed in ancient philosophy, the prince complained about the challenge posed by the Greek philosopher’s texts and commissioned Ibn Rushd to write a series of commentaries on them.

Through most of Ibn Rushd’s service, the Almohads grew more liberal, leading eventually to their formal rejection of Ibn Talmart’s theology and adoption of Malikite law in 1229. Despite this tendency, public pressure against perceived liberalizing tendencies in the government led to the formal rejection of Ibn Rushd and his writings in 1195. He was exiled to Lucena, a largely Jewish village outside of Cordoba, his writings were banned and his books burned. This period of disgrace did not last long, however, and Ibn Rushd returned to Cordoba two years later, but died the following year. Doubts about Ibn Rushd’s orthodoxy persisted, but as Islamic interest in his philosophy waned, his writings found new audiences in the Christian and Jewish worlds.
2. Note on Commentaries

While this article focuses on Ibn Rushd’s own philosophical writings, a word about the significant number of commentaries he wrote is important. Ibn Rushd wrote on many subjects, including law and medicine. In law he outshone all his predecessors, writing on legal methodology, legal pronouncements, sacrifices and land taxes. He discussed topics as diverse as cleanliness, marriage, jihad and the government’s role with non-Muslims. As for medicine, in addition to his medical encyclopedia mentioned above, Ibn Rushd wrote a commentary on Avicenna’s medical work and a number of summaries on the works of Galen. Besides his own philosophical and theological work, Ibn Rushd wrote extensive commentaries on the texts of a wide range of thinkers. These commentaries provide interesting insights into how Ibn Rushd arrived at certain positions and how much he was authentically Aristotelian. Commissioned to explain Aristotle Ibn Rushd spent three decades producing multiple commentaries on all of Aristotle’s works, save his Politics, covering every subject from aesthetics and ethics to logic and zoology. He also wrote about Plato’s Republic, Alexander’s De Intellectu, the Metaphysics of Nicolaus of Damascus, the Isagoge of Porphyry, and the Almajest of Ptolemy. Ibn Rushd would often write more than one commentary on Aristotle’s texts; for many he wrote a short or paraphrase version, a middle version and a long version. Each expanded his examination of the originals and their interpretations by other commentators, such as Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius and Ibn Bajjah, The various versions were meant for readers with different levels of understanding.

Ibn Rushd’s desire was to shed the prevalent Neoplatonic interpretations of Aristotle, and get back to what the Greek thinker originally had intended to communicate. Of course, Ibn Rushd did not shy away from inserting his own thoughts into his commentaries, and his short paraphrase commentaries were often flexible interpretations. At times, in an effort to explain complex ideas in Aristotle, Ibn Rushd would rationalize the philosopher in directions that would not seem authentic to contemporary interpreters of Aristotle. Nevertheless, Ibn Rushd’s commentaries came to renew Western intellectual interest in Aristotle, whose works had been largely ignored or lost since the sixth century.
3. Philosophy and Religion

Until the eighth century, and the rise of the Mutazilite theology, Greek philosophy was viewed with suspicion. Despite the political support given to philosophy because of the Mutazilites and the early philosophers, a strong anti-philosophical movement rose through theological schools like the Hanbalites and the Asharites. These groups, particular the latter, gained public and political influence throughout the tenth and eleventh century Islamic world. These appealed to more conservative elements within society, to those who disliked what appeared to be non-Muslim influences. Ibn Rushd, who served a political dynasty that had come into power under a banner of orthodox reform while privately encouraging the study of philosophy, was likely sensitive to the increasing tensions that eventually led to his banishment. Though written before his exile his Decisive Treatise provides an apologetic for those theologians who charged philosophers with unbelief.

Ibn Rushd begins with the contention that Law commands the study of philosophy. Many Quranic verses, such as “Reflect, you have a vision” (59.2) and “they give thought to the creation of heaven and earth” (3:191), command human intellectual reflection upon God and his creation. This is best done by demonstration, drawing inferences from accepted premises, which is what both lawyers and philosophers do. Since, therefore, such obligation exists in religion, then a person who has the capacity of “natural intelligence” and “religious integrity” must begin to study philosophy. If someone else has examined these subjects in the past, the believer should build upon their work, even if they did not share the same religion. For, just as in any subject of study, the creation of knowledge is built successively from one scholar to the next. This does not mean that the ancients’ teachings should be accepted uncritically, but if what is found within their teachings is true, then it should not be rejected because of religion. (Ibn Rushd illustrated this point by citing that when a sacrifice is performed with the prescribed instrument, it does not matter if the owner of the instrument shares the same religion as the one performing the sacrifice.)

The philosopher, when following the proper order of education, should not be harmed by his studies, hence it is wrong to forbid the study of philosophy. Any harm that may occur is accidental, like that of the side effects of medicine, or from choking on water when thirsty. If serious harm comes from philosophical study, Ibn Rushd suggests that this is because the student was dominated by their passions, had a bad teacher or suffered some natural deficiency. Ibn Rushd illustrates this by quoting a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, when asked by a man about his brother’s diarrhea. The Prophet suggested that the brother should drink honey. When the man returned to say that his brother’s diarrhea had worsened, the Prophet replied, “Allah has said the truth, but your brother’s abdomen has told a lie” (Bukhari 7.71.588).

Not all people are able to find truth through philosophy, which is why the Law speaks of three ways for humans to discover truth and interpret scripture: the demonstrative, the dialectical and the rhetorical. These, for Ibn Rushd, divide humanity into philosophers, theologians and the common masses. The simple truth is that Islam is the best of all religions, in that, consistent with the goal of Aristotelian ethics, it produces the most happiness, which is comprised of the knowledge of God. As such, one way is appointed to every person, consistent with their natural disposition, so that they can acquire this truth.

For Ibn Rushd, demonstrative truth cannot conflict with scripture (i.e. Qur’an), since Islam is ultimate truth and the nature of philosophy is the search for truth. If scripture does conflict with demonstrative truth, such conflict must be only apparent. If philosophy and scripture disagree on the existence of any particular being, scripture should be interpreted allegorically. Ibn Rushd contends that allegorical interpretation of scripture is common among the lawyers, theologians and the philosophers, and has been long accepted by all Muslims; Muslims only disagree on the extent and propriety of its use. God has given various meanings and interpretations, both apparent and hidden, to numerous scriptures so as to inspire study and to suit diverse intelligences. The early Muslim community, according to Ibn Rushd, affirmed that scripture had both an apparent meaning and an inner meaning. If the Muslim community has come to a consensus regarding the meaning of any particular passage, whether allegorical or apparent, no one can contradict that interpretation. If there is no consensus about a particular passage, then its meaning is free for interpretation. The problem is that, with the international diversity and long history of Islam, it is all but impossible to establish a consensus on most verses. For no one can be sure to have gathered all the opinions of all scholars from all times. With this in mind, according to Ibn Rushd, scholars like al-Ghazzali should not charge philosophers with unbelief over their doctrines of the eternity of the universe, the denial of God’s knowledge of particulars, or denial of bodily resurrection. Since the early Muslims accepted the existence of apparent and allegorical meanings of texts, and since there is no consensus on these doctrines, such a charge can only be tentative. Philosophers have been divinely endowed with unique methods of learning, acquiring their beliefs through demonstrative arguments and securing them with allegorical interpretation.

Therefore, the theologians and philosophers are not so greatly different, that either should label the other as irreligious. And, like the philosophers, the theologians interpret certain texts allegorically, and such interpretations should not be infallible. For instance, he contends that even the apparent meaning of scripture fails to support the theologian’s doctrine of creation ex nihilo. He highlights texts like 11:7, 41:11 and 65:48, which imply that objects such as a throne, water and smoke pre-existed the formation of the world and that something will exist after the End of Days.

A teacher, then, must communicate the interpretation of scripture proper for his respective audiences. To the masses, Ibn Rushd cautions, a teacher must teach the apparent meaning of all texts. Higher categories of interpretations should only be taught to those who are qualified through education. To teach the masses a dialectical or demonstrative interpretation, as Ibn Rushd contends Ghazzali did in his Incoherence, is to hurt the faith of the believers. The same applies to teaching a theologian philosophical interpretations.
4. Existence and Attributes of God

Ibn Rushd, shortly after writing his Decisive Treatise, wrote a treatise on the doctrine of God known as Al-Kashf ‘an Manahij al-Adilla fi ‘Aqaid al-Milla (the Exposition of the Methods of Proof Concerning the Beliefs of the Community). His goal was to examine the religious doctrines that are held by the public and determine if any of the many doctrines expounded by the different sects were the intention of the “lawgiver.” In particular he identifies four key sects as the targets of his polemic, the Asharites, Mutazilites, the Sufis and the “literalists,” claiming that they all have distorted the scriptures and developed innovative doctrines not compatible with Islam. Ibn Rushd’s polemic, then, becomes a clear expression of his doctrine on God. He begins with examining the arguments for the existence of God given by the different sects, dismissing each one as erroneous and harmful to the public. Ibn Rushd contends that there are only two arguments worthy of adherence, both of which are found in the “Precious Book;” for example, surahs 25:61, 78:6-16 and 80:24-33. The first is the argument of “providence,” in which one can observe that everything in the universe serves the purpose of humanity. Ibn Rushd speaks of the sun, the moon, the earth and the weather as examples of how the universe is conditioned for humans. If the universe is, then, so finely-tuned, then it bespeaks of a fine tuner – God. The second is the argument of “invention,” stemming from the observation that everything in the world appears to have been invented. Plants and animals have a construction that appears to have been designed; as such a designer must have been involved, and that is God.

From establishing the existence of God, Ibn Rushd turns to explaining the nature and attributes of God. Beginning with the doctrine of divine unity, Ibn Rushd challenges the Asharite argument that there cannot, by definition, be two gods for any disagreement between them would entail that one or both cannot be God. This, of course, means that, in the case of two gods, at least one’s will would be thwarted in some fashion at some time by the other; and such an event would mean that they are not omnipotent, which is a essential trait of deity. Ibn Rushd’s critique turns the apologetic on its head, contending that if there were two gods, there is an equal possibility of both gods working together, which would mean that both of their wills were fulfilled. Furthermore, Ibn Rushd adds, even disagreement would not thwart divine will, for alternatives could occur giving each god its desire. Such arguments lead to absurdity and are not fit for the masses. The simple fact is that reason affirms divine unity, which, by definition, is a confession of God’s existence and the denial of any other deity.

Ibn Rushd maintains, as did most of his theologian contemporaries that there are seven divine attributes, analogous to the human attributes. These attributes are: knowledge, life, power, will, hearing, vision and speech. For the philosopher, the attribute of knowledge occupied much space in his writing on the attributes of God. He contends, especially in his Epistle Dedicatory and his Decisive Treatise that divine knowledge is analogous to human knowledge only in name, human knowledge is the product of effect and divine knowledge is a product of cause. God, being the cause of the universe, has knowledge based on being its cause; while humans have knowledge based on the effects of such causes.

The implication of this distinction is important, since Ibn Rushd believes that philosophers who deny God’s knowledge of particulars are in error. God knows particulars because he is the cause of such things. But this raises an important question: does God’s knowledge change with knowledge of particulars? That is, when events or existents move from non-existence to existence, does God’s knowledge change with this motion? Change in divine knowledge would imply divine change, and for medieval thinkers it was absurd to think that God was not immutable.

Ghazzali answered this dilemma by saying that God’s knowledge does not change, only his relationship with the object. Just like a person sitting with a glass of water on their left side does not fundamentally change when that same glass is moved to their right side. Ibn Rushd felt that Ghazzali’s answer did not solve the dilemma, stating that a change in relationship is still change. For Ibn Rushd, then, the solution came in his contention that divine knowledge is rooted in God being the eternal Prime Mover—meaning that God eternally knows every action that will be caused by him. God, therefore, does not know that event when it occurs, as humans would, because he has always known it.

As for the other traits, Ibn Rushd next turns to the attribute of life, simply stating that life necessarily flows from the attribute of knowledge, as evidenced in the world around us. Divine will and power are defined as essential characteristics of God, characteristics that define God as God. This is because the existence of any created being implies the existence of an agent that willed its existence and had the power to do so. (The implication of this, Ibn Rushd notes, is that the Asharite concept that God had eternally willed the existence of the world, but created it at some particular point in time, is illogical.)

In regards to divine speech, Ibn Rushd is aware of the great theological debate in Islam about whether the Qur’an, the embodiment of God’s speech, is temporally created or eternal. Ibn Rushd contends that the attribute of divine speech is affirmed because it necessarily flows from the attributes of knowledge and power, and speech is nothing more than these. Divine speech, Ibn Rushd notes, is expressed through intermediaries, whether the work of the angels or the revelations given to the prophets. As such, “the Qur’an…is eternal but the words denoting it are created by God Almighty, not by men.” The Qur’an, therefore, differs from words found elsewhere, in that the words of the Qur’an are directly created by God, while human words are our own work given by God’s permission.

Ibn Rushd concludes by discussing divine hearing and vision, and notes that scripture relates these attributes to God in the sense that he perceives things in existing things that are not apprehended by the intellect. An artisan would know everything in an artifact he had created, and two means of this knowledge would be sight and sound. God, being God, would apprehend all things in creation through all modes of apprehension, and as such would have vision and hearing.
5. Origin of the World

Turning from the attributes of God to the actions of God, where he delineates his view of creation, Ibn Rushd in his Tahafut al-Tahafut clearly deals with the charge against the philosopher’s doctrine on the eternity of the physical universe in his polemic against al-Ghazzali. Ghazzali perceived that the philosophers had misunderstood the relationship between God and the world, especially since the Qur’an is clear on divine creation. Ghazzali, sustaining the Asharite emphasis on divine power, questioned why God, being the ultimate agent, could not simply create the world ex nihilo and then destroy it in some future point in time? Why did there need to be some obstacle to explain a delay in God’s creative action? In response to this, Ghazzali offered a number of lengthy proofs to challenge the philosopher’s assertions.

Ibn Rushd, who often labeled Ghazzali’s arguments dialectical, sophistical or feeble, merely replied that the eternal works differently than the temporal. As humans, we can willfully decide to perform some action and then wait a period of time before completing it. For God, on the other hand, there can be no gap between decision and action; for what differentiates one time from another in God’s mind? Also, what physical limits can restrict God from acting? Ibn Rushd, in the first discussion, writes about how Ghazzali confused the definition of eternal and human will, making them univocal. For humans, the will is the faculty to choose between two options, and it is desire that compels the will to choose. For God, however, this definition of will is meaningless. God cannot have desire because that would entail change within the eternal when the object of desire was fulfilled. Furthermore, the creation of the world is not simply the choice between two equal alternatives, but a choice of existence or non-existence. Finally, if all the conditions for action were fulfilled, there would not be any reason for God not to act. God, therefore, being omniscient and omnipotent would have known from the eternal past what he had planned to create, and without limit to his power, there would no condition to stop the creation from occurring.

Ghazzali’s argument follows the typical Asharite kalam cosmological argument, in that he argues the scientific evidence for the temporal origin of the world, and reasons from that to the existence of a creator. Ghazzali’s first proof contends that the idea of the infinite number of planetary revolutions as an assumption of the eternity of the world is erroneous since one can determine their revolution rates and how much they differ when compared one to another. Ibn Rushd weakly maintains that the concept of numbered planetary revolutions and their division does not apply to eternal beings. To say that the eternal can be divided is absurd since there can be no degrees to the infinite. Oliver Leaman explains how Ibn Rushd accepted accidental but not essential infinite series of existents. There can be an infinite chain of human sexual generation, but those beings that are essentially infinite have neither beginning nor end and thus cannot be divided.

In his Decisive Treatise Ibn Rushd summarily reduces the argument between the Asharite theologians and the ancient philosophers to one of semantics. Both groups agree that there are three classes of being, two extremes and one intermediate being. They agree about the name of the extremes, but disagree about the intermediate class. One extreme is those beings that are brought into existence by something (matter), from something other than itself (efficient cause) and originate in time. The second, and opposite, class is that which is composed of nothing, caused by nothing and whose existence is eternal; this class of being is demonstratively known as God. The third class, is that which is comprised of anything or is not preceded by time, but is brought into existence by an agent; this is what is known as the world. Theologians affirm that time did not exist before the existence of the world, since time is related to the motion of physical bodies. They also affirm that the world exists infinitely into the future. As such, since the philosophers accept these two contentions, the two groups only disagree on the existence of the world in the eternal past.

Since the third class relates to both the first and second classes, the dispute between the philosophers and the theologians is merely how close the third class is to one of the other two classes. If closer to the first class, it would resemble originated beings; if closer to the second class, it would resemble more the eternal being. For Ibn Rushd, the world can neither be labeled pre-eternal nor originated, since the former would imply that the world is uncaused and the latter would imply that the world is perishable.

Ibn Rushd finds pre-existing material forms in Quranic texts such as 11:9, where he maintains that one finds a throne and water pre-existing the current forms of the universe; he contends that the theologians’ interpretation of such passages are arbitrary. This is because nowhere in the Qur’an is the idea of God existing as pure being before the creation of the world to be found.

The debate for Ibn Rushd and Ghazzali centers, ultimately, upon the idea of causation. Ghazzali, the dedicated Asharite, wants to support the position that God is the ultimate cause of all actions; that no being in the universe is the autonomous cause of anything. For instance, a spark put on a piece of wood does not cause fire; rather God causes the fire and has allowed the occasion of spark and wood to be the method by which he creates fire. God, if he so desired, could simply will fire not to occur when a spark and wood meet. For Ghazzali, this is the explanation of the occurrence of miracles: divine creative actions that suspend laws habitually accepted by humans. Ghazzali, in his Tahafut, speaks of the decapitated man continuing to live because God willed it so.

Ibn Rushd, the consummate Aristotelian, maintains in his Tahafut Aristotle’s contention that a full explanation of any event or existence needs to involve a discussion of the material, formal, efficient and final cause. Ibn Rushd, then, insists that Ghazzali’s view would be counter-productive to scientific knowledge and contrary to common-sense. The universe, according to the human mind, works along certain causal principles and the beings existing within the universe contain particular natures that define their existence; if these natures, principles and characteristics were not definitive, then this would lead to nihilism (i.e. the atheistic materialists found in the Greek and Arab worlds). As for the idea of cause and effect being a product of habitual observation, Ibn Rushd asks if such observations are a product of God’s habit or our own observations. It cannot, he asserts, be the former, since the Qur’an speaks of God’s actions as unalterable. If the latter, the idea of habit applies only to animate beings, for the habitual actions of inanimate objects are tantamount to physical laws of motion.
6. Metaphysics

Metaphysics, for Ibn Rushd, does not simply deal with God or theology; rather it concerns itself with different classes of being and the analogical idea of being. It is, thus, a science that distinguishes inferior classes of being from real being. Ibn Rushd, the adamant Aristotelian, puts his own slant on Aristotle’s metaphysics. Ibn Rushd’s classification of being begins with accidental substances, which are physical beings, then moves to being of the soul / mind and finally discusses whether the substance existing outside the soul, such as the sphere of the fixed stars, is material or immaterial. This hierarchy, notes Charles Genequand, differs from Aristotle’s hierarchy of material beings, beings of the soul / mind and unchangeable entities. The first and third categories of both thinkers are somewhat similar in that they encompass a straight demarcation between material and immaterial being. Ibn Rushd’s second class of being, however, includes both universals and mathematical beings; and as such cannot be the bridge between physics and metaphysics as it is in Aristotle. Rather, he contended that all autonomous beings, whether material or not, constitute a single category. This was likely a response to the more materialistic interpretations of Aristotle, such as that of Alexander of Aphrodisias, for Ibn Rushd did not see physics and the metaphysical at opposite sides of the spectrum.

Substance, not beings of the mind, was the common link between physics and metaphysics for Ibn Rushd. Substance, therefore, has an ontological, though not necessarily temporal, priority over other parts of being. Since, then, metaphysics covers both sensible and eternal substances, its subject matter overlaps with that of physics. In the cosmos, then, there are two classes of eternal things, the essentially eternal and the numerically eternal. This division represents the separation between the celestial realm and the physical universe, where the living beings in the latter are bound to an eternal cycle of generation and corruption, while the former are immortal animals. Ibn Rushd does not contend that celestial bodies cause the world, rather the motion of these bodies are the “principle” of what occurs on earth.

This point is more fully developed in Ibn Rushd’s discussion regarding spontaneous generation: the idea that certain beings are created by external agents without being subject to the cycle of generation and corruption. This was a common subject of debate throughout later Greek and medieval philosophy. If beings like insects spontaneously generated from rotting food are externally generated, therein lies proof for a created universe and Asharite occasionalism, neither of which Ibn Rushd maintains. His solution is the Aristotelian doctrine of emanation, which states that no being is created but merely is the principle that unites matter and form. Since Ibn Rushd asserts that physical generation is the product of both seed, which contains forms in potentiality, and solar heat, the sun being a heavenly being; spontaneous generation, in which the seed is absent, is merely the effect of solar heat upon the basic elements (i.e. earth and water).

In the cosmological sphere, according to physics, one finds things that are both moving and moved at once and things that are only moved. Therefore, there must be something that imparts motion but is never moved; this is the Prime Mover (i.e. God). Physics, thus, provides the proof for the existence of a Prime Mover, and metaphysics is concerned with the action of this mover. The Prime Mover is the ultimate agent for Ibn Rushd and it must be eternal and pure actuality. It did not merely push the universe into existence and remain idle thereafter, for the universe would slip into chaos. Ibn Rushd acknowledges that the idea of actuality being essentially prior to potentiality counters common sense, but to accept the opposite would entail the possibility of spontaneous movement or negation of movement within the universe.

How, then, is the Prime Mover the principle of motion and causation in the cosmos without being moved itself? Ibn Rushd contends that the Prime Mover moves the cosmos, particularly the celestial bodies, by being the object of desire. Celestial beings have souls, which possess the higher power of intellect and desire, and these beings desire the perfection of God, thereby they move accordingly. Desire in the celestial beings, according to Ibn Rushd, is not the real faculty it is in humans. Since these beings have no sense perception, desire is united with intellect causing a desire for what rationally is perfection – the Prime Mover.

Ibn Rushd rejects the Arab Neoplatonic doctrine of emanation because it simply implies a temporal succession of one being producing another, which is impossible for eternal beings. By this rejection, however, Ibn Rushd recognizes a problem within his system. If God is intellectually present within the celestial bodies, there is no need for them to move in an effort to acquire this perfection. Ibn Rushd responds with an analogy of a cabinet-maker, who has the idea of a cabinet existing in his mind, but his body needs to move in order to imprint this idea upon matter. Celestial beings move in likewise matter, in order to obtain perfection, which produces the physical universe. Furthermore, this effort to obtain perfection in the celestial bodies, which is in imitation of God, effects the order of the universe.

With the Prime Mover, the celestial bodies and the physical world, Ibn Rushd has a three level cosmological view. He illustrates his cosmological order by using the analogy of the state, where everyone obeys and imitates the king. All smaller social units in the kingdom, like the family, are subordinate to the head, which is ultimately under the authority of the king. There is a hierarchy among the spheres of celestial beings, based on their “nobility” (sharaf) and not, as Avicenna held, on their order in emanation. Of course, the order of nobility parallels emanation’s order, for the hierarchical order is that which we see in the universe, the fixed stars, the planets, the moon and the earth. Like a king, the Prime Mover imparts motion only to the First Body (the sphere of the fixed stars), which becomes the intermediary for the other bodies. This leads to the other spheres (i.e. planets) to desire both the Prime Mover and the First Body, which, according to Ibn Rushd, explains how the celestial bodies move from east to west at one time and from west to east at another time. It is the desire of one that moves the planets in one way, and the desire of the other that moves them in the opposite direction.

Ultimately, as H. Davidson notes, Ibn Rushd has a cosmos in which the earth is its physical center. Surrounding the earth, at different levels, are the celestial spheres, which contain celestial bodies (e.g. the sun, moon, stars and planets), which all revolve around the earth. The motion of these spheres is attributed to immortal intelligences, governed by a primary immutable and impersonal cause. Each sphere exists in its own right, though somehow the intelligence is caused by the Prime Mover, and it is through their contemplation of the Prime Mover they receive perfection equivalent to the position they hold in the cosmological hierarchy. As such, God no longer is restricted to being a cause of one thing. The active intellect is the last sphere in the hierarchy, but is not the product of another, and like the other intelligences its cognition is fixed on God. This idea has significant influence on Ibn Rushd’s doctrine of the human soul and intellect.
7. Psychology

Like Aristotle, Ibn Rushd views the study of the psyche as a part of physics, since it is related specifically to the generable and corruptible union of form and matter found in the physical world and passed from generation to generation through the seed and natural heat. Ibn Rushd’s views on psychology are most fully discussed in his Talkbis Kitab al-Nafs (Aristotle on the Soul). Here Ibn Rushd, as M. Fakhry comments, divided the soul into five faculties: the nutritive, the sensitive, the imaginative, the appetitive and the rational. The primary psychological faculty of all plants and animals is the nutritive or vegetative faculty, passed on through sexual generation, as noted above. The remaining four higher faculties are dependent on the nutritive faculty and are really perfections of this faculty, the product of a nature urging to move higher and higher.

The nutritive faculty uses natural heat to convert nutrients from potentiality to actuality, which are essential for basic survival, growth and reproduction of the living organism. , This faculty is an active power which is moved by the heavenly body (Active Intellect). Meanwhile, the sensitive faculty is a passive power divided into two aspects, the proximate and the ultimate, in which the former is moved within the embryo by the heavenly body and the latter is moved by sensible objects. The sensitive faculty in finite, in that it is passive, mutable, related to sensible forms and dependent upon the animal’s physical senses (e.g. touch or vision). A part of these senses, notes Fakhry, is the sensus communis, a sort of sixth sense that perceives common sensibles (i.e. objects that require more than one sense to observe), discriminates among these sensibles, and comprehends that it perceives. Benmakhlouf notes that the imaginative faculty is dependent on the sensitive faculty, in that its forms result from the sensible forms, which Fakhry contends are stored in sensus communis. It differs from the sensitive faculty, however, by the fact that it “apprehends objects which are no longer present…its apprehensions are often false or fictitious,” and it can unite individual images of objects perceived separately. Imagination is not opinion or reasoning, since it can conceive of unfalsified things and its objects are particular not universal, and may be finite because it is mutable (moving from potentiality to actuality by the forms stored in the sensus communis). The imaginative faculty stimulates the appetitive faculty, which is understood as desire, since it imagines desirable objects. Fakhry adds that the imaginative and appetitive faculties are essentially related, in that it is the former that moves the latter to desire or reject any pleasurable or repulsive object.

The rational faculty, seen as the capstone of Ibn Rushd’s psychology by Fakhry, is unlike the imaginative faculty, in that it apprehends motion in a universal way and separate from matter. It has two divisions, the practical and theoretical, given to humans alone for their ultimate moral and intellectual perfection. The rational faculty is the power that allows humanity to create, understand and be ethical. The practical is derived from the sensual and imaginative faculties, in that it is rooted in sensibles and related to moral virtues like friendship and love. The theoretical apprehends universal intelligibles and does not need an external agent for intellectualization, contrary to the doctrine of the Active Intellect in Neoplatonism.

In its effort to achieve perfection, the rational faculty moves from potentiality to actuality. In doing so it goes through a number of stages, know as the process of intellectation. Ibn Rushd had discerned, as seen in his Long Commentary on De Anima, five distinct meanings of the Aristotelian intellect. They were, first and foremost, the material (potential) and the active (agent) intellects.

There is evidence of some evolution in Ibn Rushd’s thought on the intellect, notably in his Middle Commentary on De Anima where he combines the positions of Alexander and Themistius for his doctrine on the material intellect and in his Long Commentary and the Tahafut where Ibn Rushd rejected Alexander and endorsed Themistius’ position that “material intellect is a single incorporeal eternal substance that becomes attached to the imaginative faculties of individual humans.” Thus, the human soul is a separate substance ontologically identical with the active intellect; and when this active intellect is embodied in an individual human it is the material intellect. The material intellect is analogous to prime matter, in that it is pure potentiality able to receive universal forms. As such, the human mind is a composite of the material intellect and the passive intellect, which is the third element of the intellect. The passive intellect is identified with the imagination, which, as noted above, is the sense-connected finite and passive faculty that receives particular sensual forms. When the material intellect is actualized by information received, it is described as the speculative (habitual) intellect. As the speculative intellect moves towards perfection, having the active intellect as an object of thought, it becomes the acquired intellect. In that, it is aided by the active intellect, perceived in the way Aristotle had taught, to acquire intelligible thoughts. The idea of the soul’s perfection occurring through having the active intellect as a greater object of thought is introduced elsewhere, and its application to religious doctrine is seen. In the Tahafut, Ibn Rushd speaks of the soul as a faculty that comes to resemble the focus of its intention, and when its attention focuses more upon eternal and universal knowledge, it become more like the eternal and universal. As such, when the soul perfects itself, it becomes like our intellect. This, of course, has impact on Ibn Rushd’s doctrine of the afterlife. Leaman contends that Ibn Rushd understands the process of knowing as a progression of detachment from the material and individual to become a sort of generalized species, in which the soul may survive death. This contradicts traditional religious views of the afterlife, which Ibn Rushd determines to be valuable in a political sense, in that it compels citizens to ethical behavior.

Elsewhere, Ibn Rushd maintains that it is the Muslim doctrine of the afterlife that best motivates people to an ethical life. The Christian and Jewish doctrines, he notes, are too focused upon the spiritual elements of the afterlife, while the Muslim description of the physical pleasures are more enticing. Of course, Ibn Rushd does not ultimately reject the idea of a physical afterlife, but for him it is unlikely.

A number of other problems remain in Ibn Rushd’s doctrine of the soul and intellect. For instance, if the material intellect is one and eternal for all humans, how is it divided and individualized? His immediate reply was that division can only occur within material forms, thus it is the human body that divides and individualizes the material intellect. Nevertheless, aside from this and other problems raised, on some of which Aquinas takes him to task, Ibn Rushd succeeded in providing an explanation of the human soul and intellect that did not involve an immediate transcendent agent. This opposed the explanations found among the Neoplatonists, allowing a further argument for rejecting Neoplatonic emanation theories. Even so, notes Davidson, Ibn Rushd’s theory of the material intellect was something foreign to Aristotle.
8. Conclusion

The events surrounding Ibn Rushd towards the end of his life, including his banishment, signaled a broader cultural shift in the Islamic world. Interest in philosophy was primarily among the elite: scholars, royal patrons and civil servants. Nevertheless, its presence among the ruling elite spoke of the diversity of what it meant to be “Muslim.” As interest in philosophy waned in the Muslim world after Ibn Rushd, his writings found new existence and intellectual vigor in the work of Christian and Jewish philosophers. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw an intellectual revival in the Latin West, with the first great universities being established in Italy, France and England. Within the walls of the University of Paris, a group of philosophers came to identify themselves with the Aristotelian philosophy presented by Ibn Rushd, particularly certain elements of its relation to religion. Later known as the “Averroists,” these Christian philosophers sparked a controversy within the Roman Catholic Church about the involvement of philosophy with theology. Averroists, their accusers charged, had promoted the doctrines of one intellect for all humans, denial of the immortality of the soul, claimed that happiness can be found in this life and promoted the innovative doctrine of “double truth”. Double truth, the idea that there are two kinds of truth, religious and philosophical, was not held by Ibn Rushd himself but was an innovation of the Averroists.

Among Jewish thinkers, however, Ibn Rushd had a more positive impact. His thoughts on Aristotle and the relationship between philosophy and religion, particularly revelation, inspired a renewed interest in the interpretation of scripture and the Jewish religion. Key Jewish philosophers, such as Maimonides, Moses Narboni and Abraham ibn Ezra, became associated with Ibn Rushd in the West, even though they took Ibn Rushd’s doctrines into novel directions. As such, Leaman notes, the category of a Jewish “Averroist” cannot be given to these philosophers, for their relationship with Ibn Rushd’s thought was one of critique and integration into their own philosophical systems. Nevertheless, without the work of the Spanish-Muslim philosopher, much of what occurred in medieval philosophy would have not existed. He became an example of how religions are dynamic and evolving traditions, often shaped by epistemological influences from other traditions.

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Autism, or the Autistic Spectrum Disorder, is a developmental psychological disorder that begins in the early stages of infancy and affects a child’s ability to develop social skills and engage in social activities. Three current psychological/philosophical theories attempt to explain autism as the result of certain cognitive deficiencies. Each theory takes a different approach to the autistic disorder and theorizes different causes. While no theory is without its difficulties, each different approach to the autistic disorder has played an important role in developing the philosophical understanding of social cognition.

Autism is more prevalent, roughly four times more, in males than females. As a disorder, it only has existed as a recognized clinical entity for sixty years and recent research indicates that it is more widespread in the population than is currently appreciated. Persons with autism show various difficulties in social skills, cognitive processing and other co-occurring behavioral and physical problems. The latter include repetitive movements such as hand-waiving or rocking, self-injurious behavior (in cases of extreme autism) and problems with digestion. Autism has become a nationwide issue with numbers of support groups, websites and research programs. Autism has also become influential in many discussions within philosophical psychology.

Autism has played a strong ancillary role in many debates concerning social cognition, how it develops and its structure. Because persons with autism lack the basic abilities to think about others, understanding autism may give us a window into understanding much or all of social cognition. Analogous to the role lesion studies and other neuropsychological disorders play in our understanding of cognition, brain structure and function and neural organization, autism may provide valuable insight into social cognition. The study of autism, with its specific constellation of behavioral and cognitive deficiencies, may be able to highlight the structure, development and nature of social cognition in general.

This article begins with the clinical definition of autism from the DSM-IV, then discusses the role autism has played in three main theories of cognition: Theory of Mind (hereafter ToM), Simulation Theory and the Executive Control or Metacognitive theory. Finally, there is a brief discussion of the role autism still plays in understanding social cognition.

1. The Clinical Properties of Autism

Persons with autism show severely diminished or abnormal social interaction and communication, as well as a restricted repertoire of activities and interests (DSM-IV, p. 66). These symptoms can be mild, seen in a lack of certain nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze and gestures or any type of social interaction, or a more serious lack of all reciprocal social interaction and other large impairments in language development and language use. The autistic child may lack close social ties or the abilities to act as “friends” normally with other children. They also may prefer to play alone rather than with others.

The DSM-IV provides the following checklist as a guide to diagnosing autism:

A. A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3):

1. qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by two of the following:

(a) marked impairment in the use of multiple non-verbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction.(b) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level

(c) A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)

(d) Lack of social reciprocity

2. qualitative impairments in communication as manifested in at least one of the following:

(a) delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)(b) in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others

(c) stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language

(d) lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

3. restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

(a) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal in either intensity or in focus(b) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals

(c) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex body movements)

(d) persistent preoccupation with parts or objects

B. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age three years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.

C. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett’s disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

These guidelines intentionally lack specificity to account for the wide variety of symptoms and severity found in cases of autism. One of the more well-known cases of autism, is that of Temple Grandin, who holds a PhD in animal science and teaches at Colorado State University. Professor Grandin teaches classes and runs her own business. These are not the kinds of accomplishments expected from a person diagnosed with autism. The more stereotypical case is the child who neither communicates with others nor seems to want to leave their solitary world. Autism derives its name from the intense feeling one gets of the “aloneness” of the autistic person. Even a brief survey of the literature on autism would suffice to show that people diagnosed with autism have varying degrees of impairment.

The clinical and diagnostic features of autism are given to give the philosophical reader a more direct understanding of how clinicians often view the disorder. While such issues are not typically germane to philosophical discussions, they are important in understanding the disorder.
2. Autism and Theory of Mind

Autism has played an important role in theories of cognition in philosophical psychology. The first approach with which we will deal is the Theory of Mind [ToM] approach to development and its treatment of autism. The phrase “ToM approach” is used as a general marker for that family of theories that takes our knowledge of other minds to be innate and basic (See Baron Cohen, 1995; Carruthers, 1996; and Botterill & Carruthers, 1999 for related ToM views on development and autism). Further, the ToM approach often holds that ToM cognition is subtended by modules of a sort. The work of Simon Baron-Cohen is seminal and is generally taken to be the locus classicus of these approaches.

The following example with help us to better understand the type of socio-cognitive knowledge many theories of social cognition attempt to explain. Imagine two close friends have just come back from a night of trick-or-treating one Halloween and have commenced surveying the candy they received. Sam, being an aficionado of hard candy, begins to gather all those types of pieces into a pile. Sam’s compatriot Alice, on the other hand, is a connoisseur of chocolate and he is reminded of this when he sees her collecting all the chocolates into a pile. As Sam separates his candies from one another he mentions to Alice that he would be willing to trade his chocolates for her candies.

This interaction depends upon the one person representing to themselves the preferences of another. This is the sort of knowledge that the that ToM studies. Sam knows that Alice likes chocolate. Alice knows that Sam has chocolates and might be willing to trade. As this example shows, understanding and recognizing the preferences, desires and beliefs of others plays an important role in our interactions.

Baron-Cohen (1995) believes that our ability to mindread, or understand the beliefs and desires of others and how they influence subsequent behavior, is the result of four separate modules/mechanisms working together in order to produce beliefs about what others know. The mindreading system is broken down into the following four modules, ID- the Intentionality Detector, EDD- Eye Direction-Detector, SAM- the Shared Attention Mechanism, and the ToMM-Theory of Mind Module/mechanism. Each of these four mechanisms line up, roughly, with properties in the world, which are: volition (desires), perception, shared attention and epistemic states (knowledge and belief).

The first mechanism Baron-Cohen describes is the Intentionality Detector (ID) (Baron-Cohen, 1995, p. 32). The ID is a perceptual device that interprets the motion of objects in terms of primitive volitional mental states like goal and desire. A more general rendering of this sort of interpretation would be “Object wants/desires x.” Humans use this because it makes sense of basic animal behaviors like approach and avoidance. In order to interpret motion in this way, one needs only two conceptual states: want and goal. The ID is activated whenever there is any perceptual input that might be identified as an agent. We also interpret certain stimuli in the modality of touch, sound, and other modalities in an intentional fashion (Baron-Cohen, 1995, p. 36). If we back up into something we may take it to be a person, and thus say “pardon me.” Only after we verify that it is not a person do we look around to make sure no one was watching us talk to no one in particular.

The second device is the Eye Detection Device (EDD) (Baron-Cohen, 1995, p. 38). The EDD works only through the visual sensory mode. It has three functions: detecting the presence of eyes or eyelike devices; computing which direction the eyes are pointing; and inferring that if another organism’s eyes are directed toward a thing, then it sees that thing. It is important on Baron-Cohen’s view that the third function be seen as giving the organism with the EDD the ability to posit mental states about the organism it is viewing. A new mental state, “one of knowing or believing that some other creature may have visual access to” is added to the basic/primitive mental states of the child. The second and third functions of the EDD are important for Baron-Cohen. Baron-Cohen believes that it is highly adaptive to be able to make a judgment about another being’s knowledge, such as when the tiger has prey in its sights (see Baron-Cohen, 1995 pp. 32-36). If one calculates that the tiger has its eyes trained on a friend, and one uses their knowledge that eyes are used to see (extrapolation from self and third function of the EDD), then one should realize that the tiger sees one’s friend and probably will want to attack. This is called a dyadic representation: Agent sees X. The ID and EDD can form dyadic representations that are relations between two objects or people. It resembles the story told about the tiger. With the ID one can interpret the tiger as an agent. If the agent sees ones friend, and eating is a desire of the tiger, then one might realize that my friend is in danger.

The third mechanism we will deal with is the shared attention mechanism, or SAM (Baron-Cohen, 1995 pp. 44-50). The SAM’s sole function is building triadic representations. The triadic representation expresses a relation between object, Self, and agent. The representation is put generally thus: [I-see- (tiger-sees my friend)]. The SAM compares input from the ID and the EDD and forms these triadic representations. Continuing the tiger example, with a slight modification, will help. If one sees the tiger prowling (ID), sees your friend some yards away, and sees that the tiger is in a position to see your friend (EDD), the SAM can now extrapolate that both the tiger and you see your friend. Furthermore, if you know that tigers like to hunt humans, you might then warn your friend of his impending lunch date.

In this scenario the SAM makes available the ID’s inference that the tiger has a goal, which one interprets through experience, to the EDD and then reads the eye direction in terms of the agent’s inferred goals. With this information one might surmise, according to the example, that the tiger would, more than likely, eat your buddy. After reaching this conclusion one may yell to try and warn your friend of her danger. With all of this in place we can see that this use of primitive representations could be very adaptive and helpful in navigating through a world that has agents who act with goal directed activity.

The final mechanism in Baron-Cohen’s architecture is the Theory of Mind Module/Mechanism (ToMM) (Baron-Cohen, 1995 pp. 50-55). The ToMM has a number of distinct functions. The ToMM is a cognitive system that allows the human to posit a wide range of mental states from observed behavior— to employ a theory of mind in parsing the behavior of others. We learn that upon seeing a desired item, ceteris paribus, people will likely try to get that item. We also learn that people can often misrepresent the world and that these false-beliefs might lead to behaviors that are explainable only in terms of this false belief. The ToMM is the one mechanism/module that we can utilize in order to understand and codify what we learn about mental/epistemic states. The ToMM gives us the ability to represent epistemic states. These epistemic states include believing, pretending, and dreaming. The final responsibility of the ToMM is be able to put the various epistemic states together to allow us to understand how these pieces work together in mental life. The ToMM has a grand job according to Baron-Cohen: “It has the dual function of representing the set of epistemic mental states and turning all this mentalistic knowledge into a useful theory” (Baron-Cohen, p. 51).

The ToMM has multiple functions. It first processes representations of propositional attitudes of the form: [Agent-Attitude-“Proposition”]. An example is “Selma believes that it is wintery.” This is a different ability than having a mental representation of, “It is wintery today.” It differs because one’s belief about Selma is a representation of what one takes her to believe about the world. Having these sorts of representations is crucial to the ability to represent epistemic mental states. The ToMM also allows us to infer that a person will attempt to obtain what they desire if they believe that they are likely to succeed.

For many ToM researchers, the problems persons with autism show in a variety of ToM tasks is evidence for the innate basis of our cognitions about other minds. For example, persons with autism do poorly on the false-belief task. Persons with autism typically use less mental state attribution in their speech compared with average functioning persons and IQ matched developmentally delayed children. Persons with autism also fail to recognize surprise based emotions in others (Harris, 1989). However, persons with autism do show preserved cognitive function in areas as diverse as mathematics, music and mnemonic capacities. These preserved cognitive abilities in persons with autism support a dissociation which furthers the case that ToM knowledge is separate, and thus likely etiologically different, from other cognitions.

The ToM approach generally finds socio-cognitive knowledge to be innate and highly structured. It is not without its problems, however. Some argue (Fodor, 1998) that the modularity relied upon as a basis for the explanation is not plausible given the nature of modules. Further, persons with autism show a wide range of socio-cognitive abilities (high and low functioning persons with autism) that seems to be further evidence against the modular nature of social cognition. As a result, some argue that other theories provide better explanations of the autistic disorder.
3. Executive Control/Metacognitive Approaches to Autism

An alternative to the ToM view of knowledge and development is known as the Executive Control or Metacognitive theory. Executive Control Theorists propose that our ability to understand the mental states of others is the result of the development and use of more general cognitive and metacognitive processes such as metarepresentation, the self monitoring cognitive activity and problem solving. Metarepresentation is the ability that our minds have to represent a representation or have beliefs about beliefs. So, on Executive Control theory, to represent to myself a belief state of someone else, i.e. “I believe my friend sees my chocolate is in the bowl,” one does so with the understanding that one is representing the belief state of another. According to the Executive Control view, these highly complex cognitions require certain cognitive resources which develop over time and practice. Furthermore, the ability to represent the mental states of others is not native. The metarepresentation of another’s epistemic state is the result of applying general cognitive strategies and abilities within a specific domain.

On the Executive Control approach the mind is a domain general information processor able to utilize a wide variety of cognitive resources across a number of domains in solving problems. Executive Control models of cognition and cognitive development state that most of our upper level cognitive abilities are subtended by the same basic sets of cognitive resources. Our ability to pretend, to problem solve and anticipate the actions of others based on inferred thoughts we take a person to have all stem from basic general cognitive abilities. We use the same sets of cognitive resources to solve problems in math, the social arena and learning our own phone number. Understanding others’ behaviors in a social setting is particular problem that humans must face. In order to understand this arena, we simply use these other cognitive skills within the social domain.

Executive Control models rely on a traditional psychological division of labor in the mind that separates memory into long-term memory (LTM) and short-term or working memory (STM). We also have certain cognitive abilities such as the development and use of certain problem solving strategies and the ability to metarepresent. In addition to the strategies one uses to solve problems, one must also be able to generate a plan or method of solving problems that one can implement. As such, the mind is generally able to organize and reorganize activities as a person solves a problem. “Executive function is defined as the ability to maintain appropriate behaviors such as planning, impulse control, inhibition of prepotent but relevant responses, set maintenance, organized search, and flexibility of thought and action” (Ozonoff, et al., 1991, p. 1083). For example, since Alice (a teacher) knows that she wants to be home by 3:00 this afternoon, she realizes that she must finish up the writing she’s scheduled for today. She must also meet with students. If she realizes that student meetings tap her energy leaving her unsuitable for writing, she must then plan to write before meetings if she wants to accomplish her goals.

According to the executive control model, in certain problem solving situations we are able to monitor our strategies for result and economy and make changes with these goals in mind. In the above case, Alice might simply schedule meetings on days that she does not intend to write so that she might more effectively write on the other days. We can also monitor our performance in reaching certain goals. If it turns out that the division-of-academic-labor plan is not working, Alice may alter that plan. She might even inhibit the tendency they have to allow other factors of their job to take time away from writing. If she stumbles onto a procedure that works well in getting them “primed” to write, she might adopt its use. There are many tests used to evaluate our executive control abilities, but the problem confronting experimentalists is that it is often hard to develop a task that reliably taps one set of skills or abilities. However, there are some direct tests, one of the more famous of which is the Tower of Hanoi Puzzle, which researchers rely on to test executive abilities.

In the Tower of Hanoi tests, participants follow certain rules in order to accomplish the task of moving the stack of discs from one area to the next. Imagine that you are presented with three poles the rightmost of which has three discs of differing sizes. The goal is then to move the configuration of discs you are presented with, largest disc on the bottom followed by the next smallest on top and then the smallest on top of that, to the leftmost pole. You are told that while you accomplish this task you can only move one disc at a time, you cannot place a larger disc onto a smaller one and that you need to accomplish the move in the fewest possible number of moves possible. As you might imagine, initial solutions usually involve mistakes and a great many more moves than is necessary. Persons with poor executive control (children, patients with certain frontal lobe problems, persons with autism, etc.) typically perform poorly on the Tower of Hanoi task. The reason for these failures is clear, according to the Executive Control theorist.

To perform well on the tower task requires the ability to plan a solution. It also requires remembering all the necessary rules that constrain choice. This task also measures the inhibition of prepotent responses, the first of which is to just start moving the discs over to the leftmost pole. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the wisest first move. If it is the case that persons with autism typically do poorer on this task, this shows that they have poor executive control abilities. There has been some early research that showed persons with autism to do poorly on executive control tasks (Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. and Rogers, S., 1991), but recent research is beginning to weaken this conclusion (Ozonoff, S. and Strayer, D., (2001).

Other tests of Executive Control function include a variety of card sorting tasks that require the participant to sort the cards based on color, shape, category, etc. Participants are not told the rule for sorting that will be used during the test. They must figure it out as a result of the response from the experimenter affirming or denying the given response. For example, a set of cards will have animals and artifacts that are colored either red or blue. If the rule the experimenter is using is based on color, the participant, provided there are no conditions preventing the learning of the rule, will figure that the proper rule is “like colored cards with like colored cards.” However, at a certain point during the test, after the participant has shown they are using the proper rule, the rule changes and requires that we sort according to object type (artifact or natural object). In order to succeed, the participant must become aware of this rule change and alter their responses accordingly. This test focuses on strategy, perseverance, and the inhibition of prepotent responses and flexibility of action. As with the Tower of Hanoi puzzle, persons with poor overall executive control do poorly on such tasks. While the abilities tested in the Tower of Hanoi and card sorting tasks are certainly necessary for the development of our understanding of other minds, they do not represent the full complement of skills required for awareness of the thoughts of others. There are still other abilities and skills necessary.

On the Executive Control theory, social knowledge comes from our ability to pretend which allows us to metarepresent. Pretence, for many Executive Control theorists, is critically important to the development of metarepresentation (Jarrold et al., 1993). The skills involved with pretence are exactly the same skills required when we begin to think about other minds. When we engage in pretence we are able to divorce the representation of the object from the object itself: the representation becomes decoupled. This allows children the crucial move that separates representation from the object. Once this ability is practiced, the child then realizes that the representation of the object is different from the object itself. Upon the realization that the mind represents and can have representations about the world that are not tied directly to the world (i.e. pretending the hall runner is a parking lot for cars) they are then able to metarepresent a variety of epistemic states.

In order to self-represent the belief state of another, children must be able to understand that they themselves hold representations of the world. They further understand that others have the same types of relations to the world with their thoughts. Children can then create a metarepresentation of the person who has some sort of perceptual contact with the world and then, based on that metarepresentation, can predict what that person would do in a given situation. For instance, if Sam knows that Alice saw him hide his candy in the box under his bed, then he could suspect that she might go to the hiding spot if she wants some chocolate. Such metarepresentational abilities also allow us to recognize the so-called “false-belief” states of others. Sam must be able to recognize that Alice saw him put the chocolate in the box under his bed, know that he changed the hiding spot unbeknownst to her and realize that she wouldn’t know that the hiding spot had changed since she never saw me move the chocolate. She would have a false-belief based on his particular epistemic relation to the word that he realizes to be inaccurate. Understanding that someone has a false belief also requires that the user have cognitive control over the contents of his mind so that he does not confuse his own beliefs about the world with what they take others to believe. Only after these ancillary abilities are developed can the child succeed in recognizing the false-beliefs of others. Note that these complex chains of thought require a large working memory span that tracks not only my wants (to keep the chocolate for myself), but also the desires and beliefs of another (Alice wants the chocolate and believes it’s where Sam first hid it).

A result of this particular view about cognition, development and our metarepresentational abilities is a markedly different approach and explanation of the disorder autism than we encountered with the ToM approach. Instead of taking the root problem of autism to be due to a failure of some mechanism/module dedicated to the processing of certain social stimuli, the metacognitive approach finds that autism is the result of an inadequate working memory, which allows us to metarepresent (Keenan, 2000). The autistic disorder is the result of a failing of the Executive Control mechanism responsible for inhibiting certain responses, problems in working memory, recall and inflexible and perseverative problem-solving strategies (Ozonoff, et al., 1991). The failure of persons with autism on typical false-belief tasks is the result of being unable to differentiate their own views from another’s during recall (Hughes, 2002). They might also adopt the improper strategy of relying on their own personal beliefs, either by confusing which set of beliefs belongs with whom or simply forgetting which belief is theirs, in answering questions about others’ beliefs. The problem facing persons with autism and causing their suite of behavioral problems is thus a general inability to accurately store and recall information rather than a specific focal deficit in understanding mental states.
4. Autism and Simulation Theory

Simulation Theory (ST) is usually offered in contrast to other approaches and has is supported more by philosophers than psychologists. While ST traditionally received less critical notice than competing approaches, recently a variety of researchers have ardently and eloquently defended it (such as Alvin Goldman, Robert Gordon and Gregory Currie, Paul Harris and Ian Ravenscroft). ST may be more likely to explain socio-cognitive abilities since it is not laden with the theoretical commitments of ToM and utilizes some of the strengths of the executive control theory.

Simulation Theory holds that one’s knowledge of other minds is related to some sort of capacity to imagine or simulate the beliefs, desires and intentions of another and predict what they would do if one were to act in accordance with the simulated propositional attitudes. For Currie and Ravenscroft (2002, p. 52) each person is able to imaginatively project themselves into the place of another person and “generate within ourselves states of imagining that have as their counterparts the beliefs and desires of someone whose behavior we want to predict.” For Goldman (2006) mindreading begins with a basic “like-me” judgment based on low-level face based emotion recognition abilities. Using a basic “like-me” judgment, we can sense how others are feeling by the facial display of another. Seeing someone display the disgust face activates in our brains the same motor neuron paths as are active when we experience disgust. Through the use of special mirror-neurons, the brain is wired to fire those motor pathways it sees in others.

A main point of contention between the “theory”-theorists and the simulation theorists resides in what exactly the “like-me” consists. For the former, the judgment relies on theoretical assumptions, thus vindicating a theoretical component to social cognition; for the latter, it is the result of basic processes, neural or otherwise. The “like-me” judgment is at the heart of Goldman’s (2006) claim that simulation is the basic method through which we understand others. Regardless of what the “like-me” me judgment is or requires, the evidence for neonatal mimicry relies on studies that have proven difficult to replicate.

For both Currie and Ravenscroft (2002) and Goldman (2006) simulative abilities are fueled by a very basic perceptual ability to recognize emotions in others. In order to recognize how others are feeling, the infant must be able to cue into social stimuli. Once the infant can see these cues, they can begin to mimicking certain features of the emotional expression. Once they begin to mimic the expression, they begin to generate the affect states involved in the mimicked display. According to Currie and Ravenscroft, once these feats are accomplished the infant can assume that if the perceived creature is in a state, and the infant knows what that state feels like, whatever they feel is felt by other. The infant makes a very basic “like me” judgment and, from that judgment, an understanding of others begins. As the children begin to track eye-gaze and use proto-declarative pointing, they begin to develop more sophisticated ways of understanding that aids them in understanding and predicting the behavior of others.

There is an important difference in focus between Goldman’s and Currie and Ravnecroft’s versions of ST. For Goldman, prediction of behavior does not require a feeding in of propositional attitudes or mental states into one’s own cognitive system. In understanding another’s mental states, one mirrors those behaviors or facial expressions. In so doing, one comes to an unmediated understanding of how the other feels. For ST theorists like Currie and Ravenscroft, one places the pretend mental states into imagination and then allows the cognitive system run “offline” and generate predictions. This difference is important for theorists like Goldman who base simulation off certain neural functioning like mirroring.

Our ability to predict others’ behavior requires an act imagination to run the simulation. Our imagination provides the mental area in which we can simulate the role beliefs would play in certain inferential practices of an entertained person. If one imagines that another is hungry, then one might believe that they will go get lunch. One does this because when one believes themselves to be hungry they go get lunch. One plugs in supposed beliefs and desires and then runs a simulation as to what these states would cause them to do in that situation. Goldman (2006) allows that something like the above process occurs when we attempt to understand other’s mental states, but he thinks that this is an upper-level cognitive process and should be seen as importantly different from the lower level “like-me” judgment. The former processes require the lower level mirroring tasks.

In order for one to properly predict another’s behavior based on the simulation of another’s thoughts or behavior, certain assumptions must be made. When one simply thinks “What would I do in this situation” in order to allow the proper inferential chain to go through, one must assume that self and the target are roughly equivalent in a number of important respects. If one lacks basic assumptions about others, or for some other reasons believes that the target is different in important respects, one must augment the simulation with this information so as to have accurate predictions of the other’s behavior. One must disregard or replace certain basic assumptions that they might entertain in a normal case. Thus, the type of simulation one must perform becomes more complex.

In a typical case, one would predict that their friend, whom they know is hungry will likely attempt to go get lunch if the opportunity presents itself. One can make this judgment based on the fact that they would do the same thing in the situation. One plugs in the relevant information and runs a simulation. However, if one knows that their friend is on a diet, they have to take that into account when simulating their behavior. One cannot simply run the simulation using their own particular beliefs, as they are not on a diet. Details of this sort are crucial in understanding and predicting behavior.

On Currie and Ravenscroft’s version of ST, autism is the result of an inability to properly use imagination in the problem solving process, specifically, the process of placing ourselves, imaginatively, into the place of another. However, the problem facing persons with autism is not a complete inability to place themselves imaginatively in the situation of another. Rather, it is a difficulty in developing the skills necessary to practice the imaginative replacement.

Placing yourself in someone’s position, as detailed above, requires that you allow certain belief or desire states that you do not have to become active. We must set aside our own “mental economy” and allow the entertained propositional states to guide our beliefs of what that person might do. As with the earlier example of eating when hungry, since one is not on a diet, one must set aside their own responses and think “as if” they were. Thus, one would choose to not eat in the face of the hunger. Part of the difficulty persons with autism face is they are simply unable to make the proper adjustments to their own mental economy to allow the imagined belief states to play the proper role in simulating another’s beliefs. Persons with autism simply find it too difficult to simulate another person’s belief or desire states. Currie and Ravenscroft claim that the reason that persons with autism cannot simulate others is that they were never able to develop those abilities that allow for complex simulations to occur.

The reason persons with autism lack the development and use of ToM abilities is that they lack the “quasi-perceptual capacity for emotion recognition” (Currie and Ravenscroft, 2002 p. 159). They take the ability to recognize emotions to be something that is native or that surfaces early in development. Since persons with autism do not pick up on the basic emotional cues, they lack one of the primary inputs that allow simulation to occur. According to the authors, a young child perceives another’s emotional state, mimics those facial/bodily expressions and, based on how that mimicked facial expression feels to them as they perform it, thereby know what it feels like to be in that state. Since a person with autism does not even cue into these basic emotional states, they are never in a position to make the proper “like-me” reasoning and they never begin the basic mimicry that sets the whole simulative process into motion. The effects of this simple inability to recognize and simulate other’s emotional states are far-reaching.

Thus, autism, for Currie and Ravenscroft (2002), is an imaginative disorder. There are Executive Control problems like those mentioned in Executive Control models, but these problems come after and as a result of the inability to pick up on the basic perceptual content that cues us in to the mental states of others.

For a simulation theorist like Goldman (2006) the root of the autistic disorder is to be found in basic mirror-neuron dysfunction. Goldman bases his view off studies that show persons with autism are less apt in imitative abilities than average persons. Goldman cites further evidence that seems to indicate that the mirror neurons that allow simulation to occur are not functioning (Goldman, 2006 p. 206). The evidence for the mirror neuron dysfunction is tentative and Goldman notes this. But ST theorists find that the recent research into mirror neuron function and the role that these neurons play in a host of social behaviors such as mimicry, and thinking about others thoughts and actions are important signs that the theory is more supported than the rival “theory”-theory approach.
5. Conclusion

Autism remains an intriguing disorder that is only partially understood. No theory can claim to be the most widely accepted and each has its own difficulties. “Theory”-theory needs to find ways to deal with much of the new research on where and how certain tasks are performed in the brain. Some of this research, as Goldman (2006) notes, seems to violate the modularity basis that “theory”-theory requires. Further, the “theory”-theorists’ like Baron-Cohen have retreated from their theoretical commitments and offered alternative views of the autistic disorder (Baron-Cohen, 2002). Simulation theory and Executive Control theory often rely on the claim that the executive control abilities are dysfunctional in persons with autism and some recent research calls this into question (Ozonoff, S., and Strayer, D., 2001; Hughes, C., 2002).

Some recent research has tried to blend together the theoretical tenets of all of the approaches (Cundall, 2006; Keenan, 2000) forming a hybrid version of the theories and often a détente between “theory”-theory and simulation theory can be found. Researchers like Goldman think theoretical reasoning about other’s mental states is likely, but not the basic form of socio-cognitive thought. “Theory”-theorists often note that something like simulation is used, but it is only a later developmental ability in social cognition. Other researchers, Rittscher, et al, (2003) are avoiding some of the more theoretical disputes and have simply begun to investigate how socio-cognitive information is processed in the brain. Autism still presents any researcher interested in explaining socio-cognitive development an interesting challenge and any theory that purports to explain socio-cognitive structure and development will need to offer an explanation of the disorder.

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Marcus Aurelius (121—180 CE)

The philosophy of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius can be found in a collection of personal writings known as the Meditations. These reflect the influence of Stoicism and, in particular, the philosophy of Epictetus, the Stoic. The Meditations may be read as a series of practical philosophical exercises, following Epictetus’ three topics of study, designed to digest and put into practice philosophical theory. Central to these exercises is a concern with the analysis of one’s judgements and a desire to cultivate a “cosmic perspective.”

1. Life

Marcus Aurelius was born in AD 121. His early education was overseen by the Emperor Hadrian, and he was later adopted by the Emperor Antoninus Pius in AD 138. After an initial education in rhetoric undertaken by Fronto, Marcus later abandoned it in favor of philosophy. Marcus became Emperor himself in AD 161, initially alongside Lucius Verus, becoming sole Emperor in AD 169. Continual attacks meant that much of his reign was spent on campaign, especially in central Europe. However, he did find time to establish four Chairs of Philosophy in Athens, one for each of the principal philosophical traditions (Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, and Epicurean). He died in AD 180.
2. The Meditations

Marcus’ reputation as a philosopher rests upon one work, the Meditations. The Meditations take the form of a personal notebook and were probably written while Marcus was on campaign in central Europe, c. AD 171-175. The entries appear to be in no particular order and may simply be in the original order of composition. The repetition of themes and the occasional groups of quotations from other authors (see e.g. Med. 4.46, 11.33-39) add to this impression. Book One, however, is somewhat different from the rest of the text and may well have been written separately (a plan for it may be discerned in Med. 6.48).

The first recorded mention of the Meditations is by Themistius in AD 364. The current Greek title – ta eis heauton (‘to himself’) – derives from a manuscript now lost and may be a later addition (it is first recorded c. AD 900 by Arethas). The modern text derives primarily from two sources: a manuscript now in the Vatican and a lost manuscript (mentioned above), upon which the first printed edition (1558) was based.

Beyond the Meditations there also survives part of a correspondence between Marcus and his rhetoric teacher Fronto, probably dating from earlier in Marcus’ life (c. AD 138-166), discovered as a palimpsest in 1815. However, although this interesting discovery sheds some light on Marcus as an individual, it adds little to our understanding of his philosophy.
3. Philosophy
a. Stoicism

According to tradition, Marcus was a Stoic. His ancient biographer, Julius Capitolinus, describes him as such. Marcus also makes reference to a number of Stoics by whom he was taught and, in particular, mentions Rusticus from whom he borrowed a copy of the works of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (Med. 1.7). However, nowhere in the Meditations does Marcus explicitly call himself a Stoic. This may simply reflect the likelihood that Marcus was writing only for himself rather than attempting to define himself to an audience. Yet it is probably fair to admit that Marcus was at least open to ideas from other philosophical traditions, being impressed by Stoic philosophy, but not merely an unthinking disciple of Stoicism.
b. The Influence of Epictetus

As has been noted, Marcus was clearly familiar with the Discourses of Epictetus, quoting them a number of times (see Med. 11.33-38). Epictetus’ fame in the second century is noted by a number of ancient sources, being hailed as the greatest of the Stoics (Aulus Gellius 1.2.6) and more popular than Plato (Origen Contra Celsus 6.2). If Marcus felt drawn towards Stoicism, then Epictetus would surely have stood out as the most important Stoic of the time. It is perhaps reasonable, then, to turn to Epictetus in order to explore the philosophical background to the Meditations.
c. The Three topoi

Central to Epictetus’ philosophy is his account of three topoi, or areas of study. He suggests that the apprentice philosopher should be trained in three distinct areas or topoi (see Epictetus Discourses 3.2.1-2):

1. Desires (orexeis) and aversions (ekkliseis);
2. Impulse to act (hormas) and not to act (aphormas);
3. Freedom from deception, hasty judgement, and anything else related to assents (sunkatatheseis).

These three areas of training correspond to the three types of philosophical discourse referred to by earlier Stoics; the physical, the ethical, and the logical (see Diogenes Laertius 7.39). For Epictetus, it is not enough merely to discourse about philosophy. The student of philosophy should also engage in practical training designed to digest philosophical principals, transforming them into actions. Only this will enable the apprentice philosopher to transform himself into the Stoic ideal of a wise person or sage (sophos). It is to this end that the three topoi are directed.

The first topos, concerning desire (orexis), is devoted to physics. It is not enough for the philosopher to know how Nature works; he must train his desires in the light of that knowledge so that he only desires what is in harmony with Nature. For the Stoic, Nature is a complex inter-connected physical system, identified with God, of which the individual is but one part. What might be called the practical implication of this conception of Nature is that an individual will inevitably become frustrated and unhappy if they desire things without taking into account the operations of this larger physical system. Thus, in order to become a Stoic sage – happy and in harmony with Nature – one must train one’s desires in the light of a study of Stoic physical theory.

The second topos, concerning impulse (hormê), is devoted to ethics. The study of ethical theory is of course valuable in its own right but, for the Stoic training to be a sage, these theories must be translated into ethical actions. In order to transform the way in which one behaves, it is necessary to train the impulses that shape one’s behavior. By so doing the apprentice philosopher will be able not merely to say how a sage should act but also to act as a sage should act.

The third topos, concerning assent (sunkatathesis), is devoted to logic. It is important to remember here that for the Stoics the term ‘logic’ included not only dialectic but also much of what one would today call epistemology. According to Epictetus every impression (phantasia) that an individual receives often includes a value-judgement (hupolêpsis) made by the individual. When an individual accepts or gives assent (sunkatathesis) to an impression, assent is often given to the value-judgement as well. For instance, when one sees someone drink a lot of wine, one often judges that they are drinking too much wine (see e.g. Epictetus Handbook 45). Epictetus suggests that, in the light of Stoic epistemological theory, the apprentice philosopher should train himself to analyze his impressions carefully and be on guard not to give assent to unwarranted value-judgements.

For Epictetus, then, the student of philosophy must not only study the three types of philosophical discourse but also engage in these three types of philosophical training or exercise in order to translate that theory into actions. Marcus may himself be seen as a student of Epictetus, and so some scholars have suggested that the three topoi form a key to understanding the Meditations. Indeed, the Meditations may be approached as an example of a form of personal writing in which the very act of writing constituted a philosophical exercise designed to digest the three types of philosophical theory. In other words, the Meditations are a text produced by someone engaged in the three topoi outlined by Epictetus. This is hinted at in Med. 9.7 where Marcus exhorts himself to ‘wipe out impression (phantasia), check impulse (hormê), and quench desire (orexis)’.
d. Philosophical Exercises

The Meditations certainly do not present philosophical theories similar to those that one can find in, say, the surviving works of Aristotle. Nor are they comparable to a theoretical treatise like the Elements of Ethics by the Stoic Hierocles, possibly a contemporary of Marcus. Nevertheless, the Meditations remain essentially a philosophical text. As has already been noted, the Meditations are a personal notebook, written by Marcus to himself and for his own use. They do not form a theoretical treatise designed to argue for a particular doctrine or conclusion; their function is different. In order to understand this function it is necessary to introduce the idea of a philosophical exercise (askêsis).

In the Meditations Marcus engages in a series of philosophical exercises designed to digest philosophical theories, to transform his character or ‘dye his soul’ in the light of those theories (see e.g. Med. 5.16), and so to transform his behavior and his entire way of life. By reflecting upon philosophical ideas and, perhaps more importantly, writing them down, Marcus engages in a repetitive process designed to habituate his mind into a new way of thinking. This procedure is quite distinct from the construction of philosophical arguments and has a quite different function. Whereas the former is concerned with creating a particular philosophical doctrine, the latter is a practical exercise or training designed to assimilate that doctrine into one’s habitual modes of behavior. Following the account of three types of philosophical training outlined by Epictetus, Marcus reflects in the Meditations upon a medley of physical, ethical, and logical ideas. These written reflections constitute a second stage of philosophical education necessary after one has studied the philosophical theories (see e.g. Epictetus Discourses 1.26.3). By engaging in such written philosophical exercises Marcus attempts to transform his soul or inner disposition that will, in turn, alter his behavior. Thus, this second stage of philosophical education is the process by which a philosophical apprentice trains himself to put theories into practice, and so make progress towards wisdom.
e. The Point of View of the Cosmos

Of all the philosophical exercises in the Meditations the most prominent centers around what might be called ‘the point of view of the cosmos’. In a number of passages Marcus exhorts himself to overcome the limited perspective of the individual and experience the world from a cosmic perspective. For example:

You have the power to strip away many superfluous troubles located wholly in your judgement, and to possess a large room for yourself embracing in thought the whole cosmos, to consider everlasting time, to think of the rapid change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and that after dissolution are equally infinite. (Med. 9.32; see also 2.17, 5.23, 7.47, 12.32)

In passages such as this Marcus makes implicit reference to a number of Stoic theories. Here, for instance, the Stoic physics of flux inherited from Heraclitus is evoked. Perhaps more important though is the reference to one’s judgement and the claim that this is the source of human unhappiness. Following Epictetus, Marcus claims that all attributions of good or evil are the product of human judgements. As Epictetus put it, what upsets people are not things themselves but rather their judgements about things (see Handbook 5). According to Epictetus’ epistemological theory (to the extent that it can be reconstructed) the impressions that an individual receives and that appear to reflect the nature of things are in fact already composite. They involve not only a perception of some external object but also an almost involuntary and unconscious judgement about that perception. This judgement will be a product of one’s preconceptions and mental habits. It is this composite impression to which an individual grants or denies assent, creating a belief. The task for the philosopher is to subject one’s impressions to rigorous examination, making sure that one does not give assent to (i.e. accept as true) impressions that include any unwarranted value judgements.

Marcus’ personal reflections in the Meditations may be read as a series of written exercises aimed at analyzing his own impressions and rejecting his own unwarranted value judgements. For instance, he reminds himself:

Do not say more to yourself than the first impressions report. […] Abide always by the first impressions and add nothing of your own from within. (Med. 8.49)

These ‘first impressions’ are impressions before a value judgement has been made. For Marcus, human well-being or happiness (eudaimonia) is entirely dependent upon correctly examining one’s impressions and judgements. For once one has overcome false value-judgements – that wealth and social standing are valuable and that one should compete for them against others, for instance – one will experience the cosmos as a single living being (identified with God) rather than a site of conflict and destruction. As Cicero put it in his summary of Stoic physics:

The various limited modes of being may encounter many external obstacles to hinder their perfect realization, but there can be nothing that can frustrate Nature as a whole, since she embraces and contains within herself all modes of being. (On the Nature of the Gods 2.35)

It is to this end – cultivating an experience of the cosmos as a unified living being identified with God – that the philosophical exercises in the Meditations are directed.
4. Concluding Remarks

From a modern perspective Marcus Aurelius is certainly not in the first rank of ancient philosophers. He is no Plato or Aristotle, nor even a Sextus Empiricus or Alexander of Aphrodisias. To a certain extent this judgement is perfectly fair and reasonable. However, in order to assess the philosophical qualities that Marcus does have and that are displayed in the Meditations it is necessary to emphasize that in antiquity philosophy was not conceived merely as a matter of theoretical arguments. Such arguments existed and were important, but they were framed within a broader conception of philosophy as a way of life. The aim was not merely to gain a rational understanding of the world but to allow that rational understanding to inform the way in which one lived. If one keeps this understanding of ‘philosophy’ in mind, then one becomes able to appreciate the function and the philosophical value of Marcus’ Meditations.

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