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Ibn Tufayl: There is Truth, You’re Just Not Enlightened Enough To See It. —Zoe

This is his serious face.

Ibn Tufayl lived a very full life, I’m sure, but the historically significant thing he did was write a book. It was called Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, or The Living Son of the Vigilant. It is the first known philosophical novel. And it went something like this:

Boy is isolated on island, with no ideas or preconceptions in his mind.
Boy, using common sense and reasoning, determines several things, including: The superiority of humans over animals, the way different organisms can be grouped according to common characteristics, and the presence of a soul that is a distinctly separate from the body.
Man comes to island, meets boy. Man explains several religious principles. Boy recognizes these as truths in their most pure form, because he’s pure and whatnot.
Boy decides to go out and free all the other People, whose lives have been contaminated by the conventions that he did not suffer from growing up on an island, and who cannot recognize these truths in their purest form.
Boy talks to People, realizes they are not capable of understanding True Knowledge, and goes back to his island.

…There was also a side plot going on with wars and romance and whatnot, but not important.

This book was partly written as a philosophical defense for the Muslim principles of the time. It was showing that a boy, with no possible interference from any contaminating outside sources, would inevitably come to the conclusion that there is a higher spiritual presence.

While I find that to be not entirely valid, in the attempted process of proving divinity he also created the base for other cool ideas. The book contained the first known example of tabula rasa, or “blank slate”. He was the first one to really examine how someone left on their own would have to form ideas based on the things around him. Tufayl also discussed the’ true knowledge’ that Plato’s cave deals with. While initially, trying to enlighten the uneducated was deemed an obvious choice, eventually the conclusion was drawn that people cannot be taught to reach the higher truth, and some people simply are not ready. The higher truth that the Boy experienced was not in any way  communicable human senses or language. It could not be taught with any tools available to us.

Ibn Tufayl: A pretty cool guy.



2 thoughts on “Ibn Tufayl: There is Truth, You’re Just Not Enlightened Enough To See It. —Zoe

  1. This is great. I haven’t read Ibn Tufayl but I’ll certainly look him up now.

    In addition to the ‘blank slate’ approach, note:
    – the similarity between this story and Plato’s story of the cave – (person raised in cave believes shadows are real, exits the cave and sees the light, returns to cave in vain attempt to explain the truth to everybody still inside)
    – the employment by this story of the ‘state of nature’ as a method to establish philosophical points – compare with Rousseau’s “man is born free, and yet everywhere he is in chains”

    Posted by Stephen Downes | October 25, 2012, 10:14 am
    • Oh, I didn’t even think about the connection with Rousseau, but that’s really interesting. I’ve always really enjoyed the discussion of whether or not civilization and society actually makes us ‘better’ people. A similar idea crops up in Buddhist beliefs, right? You’re on a constant quest to enlightenment, which involves losing as many of the trappings of life as you can. The big difference I can see between Rousseau and Tufayl, though, is that Rousseau doesn’t believe man starts as a blank slate, but rather with goodness. I wonder if the difference comes from Tufayl specifically aiming to defend divinity, as opposed to Rousseau.

      Posted by zoeisbatman | October 26, 2012, 5:47 pm

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