[A]nyone who is not a man of learning is obliged to take these [revealed-ES] passages in their apparent meaning, and allegorical interpretation of them is for him unbelief because it leads to unbelief. That is why we hold that, for anyone whose duty it is to believe in the apparent meaning, allegorical interpretation is unbelief, because it leads to unbelief. Anyone of the interpretative class who discloses such [an interpretation] to him is summoning him to unbelief. Ibn Rushd, The Decisive Treatise, Treatise 2, 17:1014; translated by George Fadlou Hourani.
Ibn Rushd assumes that not everyone is capable of understanding allegorical interpretations of Quran. That Quran contains passages that require allegorical interpretation is (relatively) uncontroversial because, as I have noted, the Quran itself calls attention to this within the text. This is common ground between himself and his explicit target, Al-Ghazali. But Ibn Rushd associates with the allegorical passages with philosophical knowledge. As Ibn Rushd notes, the Quran itself invites the reader to a philosophical path toward God:
Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way. Lo! thy Lord is Best Aware of him who strayeth from His way, and He is Best Aware of those who go aright.—Quran 16:125
We may say then that for Ibn Rushd philosophers acquire a fuller truth of revelation and when they are virtuous they exemplify the holy life.
In line with philosophical tradition, Ibn Rushd understands philosophical knowledge as just being demonstrative truths. And not everyone is, or even can be, such a philosopher. I will call those who are incapable of philosophical knowledge the 'non-learned.' (As we have seen (recall), elsewhere in his commentary on Plato's Republic, Ibn Rushd is also concerned by the dangerous effects of those who could be philosophical, but due to badly formed institutions/cultivation fail to become one.) As the quoted passage above reveals, he clearly thinks that such esoteric teachings, when taught to the non-learned, is dangerous. That is to say, he worries about the inductive risk of some articulations of knowledge when it travels from specialists to a wider audience.
Before I explore the way in which Ibn Rushd understands the mechanism by which taught such (revealed, albeit allegorical) truth becomes dangerous, it is worth noting that in The Decisive Treatise, Ibn Rushd simultaneously argues for toleration and censorship. Philosophers and their allegorical interpretations are to be tolerated legally and politically if and only if they show self-command and limit the expression of these to works that the non-learned are not likely to read and, when they read these, find these impenetrable. (One can imagine that Ibn Rushd would approve of allegorical explanation wrapped inside, say, mathematical economics.) What he rejects, and wishes to forbid, is a program of public enlightenment in which the un-learned are taught the non-apparent truths that otherwise would be unavailable to them. He criticizes Al-Ghazali for doing so and (if Ibn Rushd is right), thereby, reveals himself (recall) as a kind of Sophist who lacks the political art.
Now, Ibn Rushd locates the inductive risk not in the content of allegorical truth of Quran. Rather, the danger comes trying to attempt to teach it to others who are not capable of grasping it. For, the problem is not that non-learned will fail to grasp the allegorical truth, but rather the non-learned will come to reject the truthful (esoteric) claims of the learned, as 'false.' (In Ibn Rushd's narrative this occurs because the non-learned are also taught only to accept straightforward or transparent meanings of the text.) In such a situation the aim of Enlightenment undermines itself and makes matters worse. That is to say, Ibn Rushd thinks that truth is fragile. One need not accept Ibn Rushd's elitist anthropology (or the details of his example) to recognize that self-undermining Enlightenment can be a genuine possibility. (If one rejects such a possibility one is probably in the grip of an extremely optimistic, teleological metaphysics.) To recognize this as a possibility, and to even acknowledge the reasonableness of Ibn Rushd's program of toleration & censorship, is not to embrace his purported even somewhat familiar solutions (i.e., self-disciplined experts speaking to fellow experts, while the non-experts do not even know what they do not know), as appropriate for us. Some other time, I revisit the characteristics and challenges of self-undermining Enlightenment.
Here, I close with the observation:* Ibn Rushd does not quite explain the psychological mechanism that produces the bad outcome the non-learned will come to reject the truth. But one can fruitfully imagine him as postulating a kind of cognitive dissonance among the non-learned when faces with purported (and really real) truth that is incompatible with what they take to be true is transformed into a hostile rejection of (or resistance to) the mambo-jumbo of the learned. The significance of this is that all attempts at Enlightenment need to anticipate and find ways to overcome such cognitive dissonance.
*I thank my students in my Islamic Political Theory for helping me explore the paragraph that follow.