Alfarabi’s and Averroes’s philosophical treatises are guided by a common recognition that there are four types of knowledge (maʽlūmāt) which are prior to scientific demonstration: received tradition, generally accepted opinion, perception, and first intelligibles. These constitute the starting points for Alfarabi’s and Averroes’s accounts of the five rational or syllogistic arts, rhetoric, dialectic, sophistry, poetry, and demonstration, the arts that are used in varying ways in all the sciences—natural, metaphysical, theological, and political. Although all these sources of knowledge are pertinent to an inquiry into how these writers understood “experience” and “perception,” two in particular, generally accepted opinion and perception itself, are presented by Alfarabi and Averroes as central to scientific demonstration. The purpose of my research is to show, in these two key figures in Arabic philosophy, how prescientific knowledge is essential to their accounts of the nature of our experiences and our perceptions. Their work spawned rich accounts of the nature of science and philosophy for the discovery of human happiness.
Two related aspects will highlight, through comparison, the significance of their accounts. First, since there is adequate evidence in Aristotle that experience and perception are essential aspects of Aristotelian science, it should not surprise us to find these elements not only present in, but enriched by Alfarabi and Averroes. Recovering this robust philosophic science helps us see better how the mechanistic accounts of nature in the seventeenth century limit our ability to understand our experience and our perceptions. Second, since the reception of Alfarabi’s and Averroes’s philosophies in Hebrew- and Latin-speaking communities was partial and often ambiguous, it is useful to compare the ways in which their accounts of prescientific knowlege were received in Europe and what was gained or lost in the process.