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.