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Averroes’ Middle Commentary on Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics

In: Oriens
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The conventional view of the previous century that Averroes’ middle commentaries (talāḫīṣ) on Aristotle are all of the same form and style is no longer tenable. A full and accurate account of the similarities and differences among Averroes’ talāḫīṣ on Aristotle must consider all of them. Perhaps the least studied and least known of these middle commentaries is the one on the Nicomachean Ethics, a text which is extant today only in a critically edited medieval Hebrew translation and an as yet unedited medieval Latin translation. The two authors of the present article have each studied chapters of this commentary independently of each other and have reached different conclusions concerning its value. In this article they present a careful examination of the first book of Averroes’ commentary via its Hebrew translation and Latin translation (primarily through the two oldest and most reliable manuscripts of it) in comparison with the medieval Arabic translation of the Nicomachean Ethics that was used by Averroes (and in light of Aristotle’s Greek text). This study shows an Averroean middle commentary that is not very original and not particularly helpful, especially, for example, when compared to the quite different middle commentaries on Aristotle’s books on natural science. Indeed, he often seems to do little more than copy—not even paraphrase—the Arabic translation. On the other hand, Averroes does not hesitate to insert words as he copies in order to make the text clearer and easier to understand. Where lengthier explanations are needed, they too are attempted, at times in response to problematic translations in the Arabic text before him.

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