Ibn Gabirol, Solomon ben Judah


Ibn Gabirol, Solomon ben Judah
(1021–58)
   Chiefly remembered as one of the greatest Sephardic poets, Ibn Gabirol was also one of the most original and resourceful of the medieval Jewish philosophers. As an inhabitant of Andalusia, he wrote in Arabic and was deeply influenced by the Islamic intellectual milieu in which he lived and worked. His key philosophical production is The Fountain of Life (Yanbual-hayat), which takes the form of a dialogue between a master and his pupil. By means of this literary device he lays out a complex and sophisticated Neoplatonic cosmology which nonetheless diverges from that of his Muslim brethren in important and interesting ways. Rejecting the demand that all creation be understood as a timeless, logical, involuntary emanation from God’s self-knowledge, Ibn Gabirol identified divine will as the primary nexus between God and creation. In this way he attempted to preserve a robust, voluntaristic conception of divine and human freedom against the implicit necessitarianism of the mashsha’i philosophers. Further, he articulated a universal hylomorphism in which the Aristotelian distinction between form and matter became applicable to spiritual as well as corporeal substances (‘intelligible matter’ functioning here as the principle of individuation). Lastly, he conceived of corporeal substances as composed of a plurality of forms, a stance that raised difficult questions about the unity of the individual. Ironically, such innovations had little or no lasting effect within either the Islamic or Jewish intellectual traditions. In philosophical circles, Ibn Gabirol’s Neoplatonism was quickly overshadowed by the Aristotelianism of thinkers such as Ibn Maymun and Levi ben Gerson, even as it was preserved figuratively through his Hebrew poetry (see particularly The Kingly Crown [Keter Malkut]). However, The Fountain of Life, which was translated into Latin as Fons Vitae and attributed to the ‘Arab’ Avicebron (also: Avicebrol or Avencebrol), did have a profound effect on Latin Christian philosophers such as Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, provoking them to careful reflections on the nature of identity, individuation and personal immortality.
   Further reading: Frank and Leaman 1997; Goodman 1992b; Ibn Gabirol 1962; Sirat 1985

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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