History of Philosophy in Islam (PART IB) continued fm 9.04.15



1. Towards the end of the eleventh century, when Abu Bekr Mohammed ibn Yakhya ibn al-Saig ibn Baddja (Avempace) was born in Saragossa, the fair kingdom of Andalusia was approaching the time of its disappearance in a system of petty States. It was threatened from the North by the less civilized but yet powerful and brave Christian knights. But the Berber dynasty of the Almoravids came to the

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rescue, who were not only firmer in the faith but also wiser in their policy than the voluptuous ruling race of Spain. Then the time of refined culture and free enquiry seemed gone for ever. Only traditionalists, of the strictest rite, ventured to make a public appearance, while philosophers, unless they kept concealed, were persecuted or put to death.

2. But barbarous lords have their caprices, being fond of appropriating, at least superficially, the culture of those who have been subjugated by them. Thus Abu Bekr ibn Ibrahim, brother-in-law of the Almoravid prince Ali,–who was for some time Governor of Saragossa, made Ibn Baddja his intimate friend and first minister, thereby giving great offence to his Faqihs and soldiers. Now this was a man, skilled both in the theory and practice of the Mathematical Sciences, particularly Astronomy and Music, as well as an adept in Medicine, and one who was devoted to speculative studies in Logic, Natural Philosophy and Metaphysics; and in the opinion of the fanatics he was an utterly abandoned atheist and immoral person.

We know nothing more of the outward life of Ibn Baddja except that he was in Seville in the year 1118, after the fall of Saragossa, and that he composed several of his works there, afterwards betaking himself to the Almoravid court in Fez, where he died in 1138. According to tradition he met his death by poison, administered at the instigation of a jealous physician. His short life, as he himself confesses, had not been a happy one; and he had often longed for death, as a final refuge. Material want, and, above all, intellectual isolation, may have weighed down his spirits. His extant writings abundantly evince

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that he was unable to feel at home in that day and that environment.

3. He conforms almost entirely to Farabi, the quiet, solitary Eastern. Like him he was little given to systematizing. His original treatises are but few in number; and they consist chiefly of brief expositions of Aristotelian and other philosophical works. His observations are of a desultory character: Now he makes a beginning in one place; again, he starts afresh in another. In continually renewed approaches he endeavours to get nearer Greek thought, and to penetrate from every possible side to ancient science. He does not discard philosophy, and he does not deal conclusively with it. On a first glance, that produces a puzzling impression; but, in the sombre impulse which is upon him, the philosopher has become aware of the path he is pursuing. In searching for truth and righteousness, he is coming upon another thing,–unity and joy in his own life. In his opinion, Gazali took the matter much too easily, when he thought he could be happy only in the full possession of the truth comprehended by means of Divine illumination. In his love for the truth, which is concealed rather than revealed by the sensuous images of religious mysticism, the philosopher must be strong enough to renounce that happiness. Only pure thinking, undisturbed by any sensuous desire, is privileged to behold the supreme Godhead.

4. In his logical writings Ibn Baddja hardly departs from Farabi. Even his physical and metaphysical theories agree generally with the views of the master. But perhaps the mode, in which he represents the history of the development of the human spirit and the position of man in knowledge

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and in life, may claim a measure of interest. There are two kinds of existence, according to his view,–one which is moved, and one which is not moved. That which is moved is corporeal and limited, but its everlasting movement cannot be explained by finite Body. On the contrary, in order to explain this endless movement, an unending power is needed, or an eternal essence, namely Spirit. Now while the corporeal or the natural is moved from without, and the Spirit, itself unmoved, confers movement upon the corporeal, the Soul-substance occupies a middle position, being that which moves itself. The relation between the natural and the psychical presents as little difficulty to Ibn Baddja as to his predecessors; but the great problem is this:–‘How are the Soul and the Spirit related to each other, that is to say in Man?’

5. Ibn Baddja starts with the assumption that Matter cannot exist without some Form, while Form may exist by itself, without Matter. Otherwise, in fact, absolutely no change is thinkable, because that is rendered possible only by the coming and going of substantial Forms.

These Forms then, from the hylic up to the purely spiritual, constitute a series, to which the development of the human spirit corresponds, in so far as it realizes the rational ideal. Man’s task is to comprehend all the spiritual Forms together; first the intelligible Forms of all that is corporeal, then the sensible-spiritual presentations of the Soul, next the human Spirit itself and the Active Spirit over it, and lastly the pure Spirits of the celestial spheres. By rising through successive stages from the individual and sensible, the presentation of which constitutes the material on which the Spirit operates, Man attains to the

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superhuman and the Divine. Now his guide in this process is Philosophy, or the knowledge of the universal, which issues from knowledge of the particular through study and reflection, aided however by the enlightening Spirit from above. Contrasted with this knowledge of the universal or the infinite,–in which Being, and becoming the object of cognition coincide,–all perception and presentation prove deceptive. Thus it is by rational knowledge, and not by religious and mystical dreaming, with the sensuous invariably clinging thereto, that the human Spirit arrives at perfection. Thinking is the highest bliss, for its very purpose is to reach all that is intelligible. But since that is the universal, the continued existence of individual human Spirits beyond this life cannot be assumed. It may be that the Soul,–which apprehends the particular in the life of sensuous-spiritual presentation, and notifies its existence in separate desires and actions,–has the faculty of continuing that existence after death, and of receiving reward or punishment; but the Spirit or the rational part of the Soul is one in all. It is only the Spirit of the entirety of Mankind, or, in other words, the one Intellect, Mind or Spirit in Humanity,–and that too in its union with the active Spirit over it,–which is eternal. This theory, which made its way into the Christendom of the Middle Ages, under the name of Averroes’ Theory, is thus found even with Ibn Baddja, if not quite distinctly conceived, at all events more clearly given than with Farabi.

6. Every man does not rise to such a height of contemplation. The greater number grope about continually in the dark; they merely see the adumbrations of things, and like shadows they will pass away. Some see the Light,

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it is true, and the coloured world of things, but very few indeed recognize the essence of what they have seen. It is only the latter, the blessed ones, who attain to life eternal,–in which state they themselves become Light.

But now, how does the individual man get to this stage of knowledge and blessed existence? Through action directed by reason, and the free cultivation of his intellectual powers. Action directed by reason is free action, that is, action in which there is a consciousness of purpose. If one, for instance, breaks a stone to pieces, because he has stumbled against it, he is behaving without purpose, like a child or a lower animal; but if he does this in order that others may not stumble against the stone, his action must be called manlike, and directed by reason.

In order to be able to live as a man should, and to act in a rational way, the individual man, must as far as circumstances permit, withdraw from society. The name borne by the Ethics of Ibn Baddja is “Guidance to the Solitary”. It demands self-culture. Generally, however, one may avail himself of the advantages attending social life in man, without including in the bargain its disadvantages. The wise may associate themselves in larger or smaller unions; such indeed is their duty, if they light upon one another; and then they form a State within the State. Naturally they endeavour to live in such a manner that neither physician nor judge is necessary among them, They grow up like plants in the open air, and do not stand in need of the gardener’s skill. They keep at a distance from the lower enjoyments and sentiments of the multitude. They are strangers to the movements of worldly society. And as they are friends among themselves, this life of theirs is

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wholly determined by Love. Then too as friends of God, who is the Truth, they find repose in union with the superhuman Spirit of Knowledge.


1. The sovereignty over Western Islam remained with the Berbers, but the Almohads speedily took the place of the Almoravids. Mohammed ibn Tumart, the founder of the new dynasty, had, from the year 1121, come forward as Mahdi. Under his successors Abu Yaaqub Yusuf (1163-1184) and Abu Yusuf Yaaqub (1184-1198), their sovereignty, which was centred in Marocco, reached its culminating point.

The Almohads brought with them a startling novelty in theology: The system of Ashari and Gazali, which till then had been branded as heretical, was adopted in the West. That meant an infusion of intellectualism into the teaching of the Faith,–a proceeding which could not be altogether satisfactory either to the adherents of the old Faith or to freethinkers, but which may have incited many to farther philosophizing. Hitherto an attitude of repudiation had been maintained towards all reasoning in matters of faith; and, even later, many politicians and philosophers were of opinion that the faith of the multitude should not be violently disturbed, nor elevated to knowledge, but that the provinces of Religion and of Philosophy should be kept scrupulously separate.

The Almohads were interested in questions of theology, but yet Abu Yaaqub and his successors manifested, as far as political conditions permitted, such an appreciation of secular knowledge, that philosophy was enabled to enjoy

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2. We find Abu Bekr Mohammed ibn Abdalmalik ibn Tofail al-Qaisi (Abubacer) in the position of Vizir and Body-Physician to Abu Yaaqub, after holding an appointment as Secretary in Granada. His place of birth was the small Andalusian town of Guadix, and he died in Marocco, the seat of Government, in the year 1185. The life that lies between appears to have been by no means eventful. He was fonder of books than of men, and in his sovereign’s great library he gathered, by reading, much information which he required for his art, or which met his ardent thirst for knowledge. He was the dilettante of the philosophers of the West, and was more given to contemplative enjoyment than scientific work. Rarely did he set himself to write. We need not perhaps put absolute faith in his assertion that he could have fundamentally improved the Ptolemaic system. Many Arabs made a like assertion, without carrying it into effect.

Of Ibn Tofail’s poetic ventures, one or two poems have been preserved to us. But his principal endeavour, like that of Ibn Sina, was to combine Greek Science and Oriental Wisdom into a modern view of the world. That was to him a personal concern, just as it was to Ibn Baddja. He too occupied his mind with the relation of the individual man to Society and its prejudices. But he went farther: Ibn Baddja, as a rule made out the individual thinker or a small association of independent thinkers, as constituting a State within the State,–a copy, as it were, of the great total, or a model for happier times: Ibn Tofail on the other hand, turned to consider the original.

3. He states the case clearly, in his work “Hai ibn Yaqzan”. The scenery is contributed by two islands, on

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once of which he sets human society with its conventions, and on the other an individual man, who is being developed naturally. This society as a whole is governed by lower impulses, subjected only to some measure of outward restraint by a grossly sensuous religion. But out of this society two men, called Salaman and Asal (Absal, cf. IV, 4 § 7), rise to rational knowledge and control of their desires. Accommodating himself to the popular religion, the first, who is of a practical turn of mind, contrives to rule the people; but the second, being of speculative disposition and mystic leanings, wanders off to the island which lay opposite, and which he imagines to be uninhabited,–there to devote himself to study and ascetic discipline.

On that island, however, our Hai ibn Yaqzan,–i.e. ‘the Active one, the son of the Vigilant’,–had been trained into a perfect philosopher. Cast upon the island when a child, or else brought into existence there by spontaneous generation, he had been suckled by a gazelle, and then had been in the course of time left, like a Robinson Crusoe, and that entirely, to his own resources. Yet he had secured a material existence, and farther, by observation and reflection, had acquired a knowledge of Nature, the heavens, God, and his own inner being, until after seven times seven years he had attained to that which is highest, viz., the Sufi vision of God, the state of ecstasy. In this situation he was found by Asal. After they had come to understand each other,–for at first Hai was still without-speech,–it was found that the philosophy of the one and the religion of the other were two forms of the same truth, except that in the first form it was somewhat less veiled. But when Hai came to know that on the opposite island an

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entire people continued in darkness and error, he resolved to proceed thither and reveal the truth to them. Here, however, he was brought to learn by experience that the multitude were incapable of a pure apprehension of the truth, and that Mohammed had acted wisely in giving the people sensuous forms instead of full light. After this result therefore he repaired again with his friend Asal to the uninhabited island, to serve God in spirit and in truth till the hour of death.

4. Ibn Tofail has devoted by far the largest portion of his romance to the course of Hai’s development; but he cannot certainly have thought that the individual man, left to himself, is able, with the resources of Nature alone and without the help of society, to advance so far as Hai did. And yet his conception is perhaps rather more historical, than certain views which have been entertained since his day, e.g. by some of the Rationalists of the 18th century. Many little touches in his work shew that Hai was intended to represent humanity as it stands outside of revelation. That which is accomplished in him, is the development of Indian, Persian and Greek wisdom. One or two hints pointing in that direction, but which cannot be farther followed out here, may help to lend probability to this view. Thus it is significant, to begin with, that Hai lives on the island of Ceylon, the climate of which was held to be such as to render spontaneous generation possible, where also, according to the legend, Adam, the first man, had been created, and where the Indian king came to the Wise Man. Then Hai’s first religious sentiment of wonder, after he had struggled up out of the primary, animal stage, through shame and curiosity, is

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elicited by fire, which has been discovered by him,–a circumstance which recalls to us the Persian religion. And his farther speculations are borrowed from Greco-Arabic Philosophy.

The affinity to Ibn Sina’s Hai, which Ibn Tofail himself indicates, is clear: Only, the figure of Hai in this case presents a more human appearance. With Ibn Sina the character of Hai represents the Superhuman Spirit, but the hero of Ibn Tofail’s romance seems to be the personification of the natural Spirit of Mankind illuminated from above; and that Spirit must be in accordance with the Prophet-Soul of Mohammed when rightly understood, whose utterances are to be interpreted allegorically.

Ibn Tofail has thus arrived at the same result as his Eastern predecessors. Religion must still be kept up for the ordinary man, because he cannot go beyond it. It is only a few who rise to an understanding of religious symbols; and very rarely indeed does any one attain to the unrestrained contemplation of the highest reality. This last truth he accentuates with the greatest emphasis. Even if we do find in Hai the representative of human nature, we cannot gainsay this truth; for the representation given sets forth the supreme perfection of Man as consisting in submerging his own self in the World-Spirit, in the most lonely quietude, and withdrawn from all that is sensuous.

It is true that this condition is attained only in mature age, in which, besides, a human friend has been met with; and attention to what is material, and to the arts and sciences, forms the natural preliminary stage of spiritual perfection. Thus Ibn Tofail is permitted to look back without regret or shame upon his life spent at court.

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5. We have already met frequently with the philosophical views, which Hai developed in his seven life-periods. But even his practical behaviour is specially considered by Ibn Tofail. Sufi exercises, as they are still observed among the religious orders of the East, and as they had been recommended even by Plato and the Neo-Platonists, have taken the place of the observances of religious worship enjoined by the Muslim Law. And Hai forms for himself in the seventh period of his life a system of Ethics which has a Pythagorean appearance.

Hai has set before him as the aim of his action,–to seek for the One in all things and to unite himself to the absolute and the self-existing. He sees in fact all Nature striving to reach this Highest Being. He is far above the view that everything on the earth exists for the sake of Man. Animals and plants likewise live for themselves and for God; and thus he is not permitted to deal capriciously with them. He now restricts his bodily wants to what is absolutely necessary. Ripe fruits are preferred by him, the seeds of which he piously consigns to the soil, taking anxious precaution that no kind may die out through his avidity. And only in extreme need does he touch animal food, in which case he seeks in like manner to spare the species. ‘Enough for life, not enough for sleep’ is his motto.

That has reference to his bodily attitude towards the earthly; but the living principle binds him to the heavens, and, like the heavens, he strives to be useful to his surroundings, and to keep his own life pure. He therefore tends the plants and protects the animals about him, in order that his island may become a paradise. He pays scrupulous attention to the cleanliness of his person and

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his clothing, and endeavours to give a harmonious turn to all his movements, in conformity with those of the heavenly bodies.

In this way he is gradually rendered capable of elevating his own self above earth and heaven to the pure Spirit, That is the condition of ecstasy, which no thought, no word, no image has ever been able to comprehend or express.



by T.J. de Boer [1904]


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