From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (Arabic: حي بن يقظان "Alive, son of Awake"; Latin: Philosophus Autodidactus "The Self-Taught Philosopher"; English: The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan), the first Arabic novel, was written by Ibn Tufail (also known as Aben Tofail or Ebn Tophail), a Moorish philosopher and physician, in early 12th century Islamic Spain. The novel was itself named after an earlier Arabic allegorical tale and philosophical romance of the same name, written by Avicenna (Ave Cena) in the early 11th century, though they had different stories.
Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan had a significant influence on Arabic literature, Persian literature, and European literature after it was translated in 1671 into Latin and then into several other European languages. The work also had a "profound influence" on both classical Islamic philosophy and modern Western philosophy, and became "one of the most important books that heralded the Scientific Revolution" and European Enlightenment. The novel is also considered a precursor to the European bildungsroman genre.
Ibn Tufail drew the name of the tale and most of its characters from an earlier work by Ibn Sina (Avicenna), but the plot was very different, and the book was a new and innovative work in its own right. Avicenna's story was essentially a thought experiment about the active intellect, personified by an elderly sage, instructing the narrator, who represents the human rational soul, about the nature of the universe.
The plot of Ibn Tufail's more famous Arabic novel was inspired by Avicennism, Kalam, and Sufism, and was also intended as a thought experiment. Ibn Tufail's novel tells the story of an autodidactic feral child, raised by a gazelle and living alone on a desert island in the Indian Ocean. After his gazelle mother passes away when he is still a child, he dissects her body and performs an autopsy in order to find out what happened to her. The discovery that her death was due to a loss of innate heat sets him "on a road of scientific inquiry" and self-discovery.
Without contact with other human beings and solely by the exercise of his faculties, Hayy discovers ultimate truth through a systematic process of reasoned inquiry in seven phases of seven years each. Hayy ultimately comes into contact with civilization and religion when he meets a castaway named Absal. He determines that certain trappings of religion and civilization, namely imagery and dependence on material goods, are necessary for the multitude in order that they might have decent lives. However, he believes that imagery and material goods are distractions from the truth and ought to be abandoned by those whose reason recognizes that they are distractions.
Ibn Tufail's book reflects one of the main concerns of Muslim philosophers (later also of Christian thinkers), that of reconciling philosophy with revelation. At the same time, the narrative anticipates in some ways both Robinson Crusoe and Emile: or, On Education. The story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is also similar to the later story of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
Hayy ibn Yaqdhan dealt with many philosophical themes, especially in regards to epistemology. The thoughts expressed in the novel can be found "in different variations and to different degrees in the books of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant."
Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan was written as both a continuation of Avicenna's version of the story and as a response to al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers, which had criticized many of Avicenna's views. Ibn Tufail cited al-Farabi, Avicenna's Avicennism and al-Ghazali's Ash'ari theology as the main influences behind his work, as well as his teacher Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), Ibn Tumart, and Sufism.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr summarizes thus the message of the book: “Hayy is the solitary of Ibn Bajjah, whose inner experience to reach the truth through the intellect (…) points to one of the major messages that lies at the heart of Islamic philosophy. That message is the inner accord between philosophy and religion and the esoteric role of philosophy as the inner dimension of the truths expounded by revealed religion for a whole human collectivity.”
In his Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, Ibn Tufail was the first to demonstrate Avicenna's theories of empiricism and tabula rasa as a thought experiment in his novel, as he depicted the development of the mind of a feral child "from a tabula rasa to that of an adult, in complete isolation from society" on a deserted island. The Latin translation of his work, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus, published by Edward Pococke the Younger in 1671, inspired John Locke's formulation of tabula rasa in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which went on to become one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern Western philosophy, and influenced many Enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley. The theory of tabula rasa later gave rise to the nature versus nurture debate in modern psychology. According to Nasr, however:
Far from being a treatise on naturalism denying revelation, as some have claimed, Hayy ibn Yaqzån is a work that seeks to unveil within man the significance of the intellect whose illumination of the mind is like an inner revelation that cannot but confirm the truths of the outer revelation and objective prophecy.
In Hayy ibn Yaqzan, Ibn Tufail was also "the first author in the history of philosophy to ask himself the question" of the "conditions of possibility" of thought. He asked himself the questions "how does thought manifest itself" and "what is structure?" His answer was that "the most humble experience is already, by itself, structured like a thought."
Hayy determines that certain trappings of civilization, namely imagery and dependence on material goods, are necessary for the multitude in order that they might have decent lives. However, he believes that imagery and material goods are distractions from the truth and ought to be abandoned by those whose reason recognizes that they are distractions. Hayy's ideas on materialism in the novel also have some similarities to Karl Marx's historical materialism.
Ibn Tufail also foreshadowed Molyneux's Problem, an unsolved problem in philosophy proposed by William Molyneux to Locke, who included it in the second book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Ibn Tufail wrote the following in Hayy ibn Yaqzan:
If you want a comparison that will make you clearly grasp the difference between the perception, such as it is understood by that sect [the Sufis] and the perception as others understand it, imagine a person born blind, endowed however with a happy natural temperament, with a lively and firm intelligence, a sure memory, a straight sprite, who grew up from the time he was an infant in a city where he never stopped learning, by means of the senses he did dispose of, to know the inhabitants individually, the numerous species of beings, living as well as non-living, there, the streets and sidestreets, the houses, the steps, in such a manner as to be able to cross the city without a guide, and to recognize immediately those he met; the colors alone would not be known to him except by the names they bore, and by certain definitions that designated them. Suppose that he had arrived at this point and suddenly, his eyes were opened, he recovered his view, and he crosses the entire city, making a tour of it. He would find no object different from the idea he had made of it; he would encounter nothing he didn’t recognize, he would find the colors conformable to the descriptions of them that had been given to him; and in this there would only be two new important things for him, one the consequence of the other: a clarity, a greater brightness, and a great voluptuousness.
Hayy ibn Yaqdhan had a significant influence on Arabic literature, Persian literature, and European literature, and went on to become an influential best-seller throughout Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The work also had a "profound influence" on both Islamic philosophy and modern Western philosophy. It became "one of the most important books that heralded the Scientific Revolution" and European Enlightenment, and the thoughts expressed in the novel can be found "in different variations and to different degrees in the books of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant." George Sarton considered the novel "one of the most original books of the Middle Ages."
In the late 12th century, Avicenna's original Persian version of Hayy ibn Yaqzan inspired Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi to write Story of Western Loneliness, in which he began the story from where Avicenna ended Hayy ibn Yaqzan.
In the 13th century, Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan inspired Ibn al-Nafis to write the first theological novel, Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Siera al-Nabawiyyah (The Treatise of Kamil on the Prophet's Biography), known in the West as Theologus Autodidactus, written as a critical response to Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan and in defense of some of al-Ghazali's views. Theologus Autodidactus was also based on a feral child living on a desert island but the plot later expanded beyond this setting and evolved into the first example of a science fiction novel. Ibn al-Nafis' novel was also later translated into English in the early 20th century as Theologus Autodidactus.
A Latin translation of Ibn Tufail's work, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus, was first published in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, who had completed the translation prior to 1660. The novel inspired the concept of tabula rasa developed in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) by John Locke, who was a student of Pococke, and who referred to his translation as a "novelty". Philosophus Autodidactus also inspired Robert Boyle, another acquaintance of Pococke, to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist.
The first English translation of the novel was published by George Ashwell in 1686, based on Pococke's Latin translation. The first English translation of the Arabic original, entitled The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan, was published shortly after by Simon Ockley in 1708, followed by two more English translations. Baruch Spinoza also read the work and soon encouraged a Dutch translation, which was published by his friend Johannes Bouwmeester in 1672. Another Dutch translation, De natuurlijke wijsgeer, was published by Adriaan Reland in 1701.
There were also two German translations of the novel, the first based on the Latin translation and the second based on the Arabic original. One of these translations was read by Gottfried Leibniz, who praised it as an excellent example of classical Arabic philosophy. In Paris, Pococke's agent also wrote to him stating that he "delivered a copy to the Sorbonne for which they were very thankful, being much delighted with it."
In 1719, one of the English translations of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, which was also set on a deserted island and was regarded as the first novel in English.  In turn, Robinson Crusoe had an "enormous impact" on the thought of the Enlightenment. In 1761, an anonymous Crusoe story was printed in London, entitled The Life and Surprising Adventures of Don Antonio de Trezannio, much of which was conveyed or paraphrased from Ockley's translation of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan. Ockley's translation was also published again in 1804 by Paul Bronnie in London. Despite Hayy ibn Yaqdhan originally being written in Islamic Spain, the first Spanish translation of the novel wasn't published until 1900, by F. Pons Boigues in Zaragoza. An accurate French translation was also published that same year by Prof. L. Gauthier at Algiers.
The story of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan also anticipated Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile: or, On Education in some ways, and is also similar to the later story of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Both Rousseau and Kipling were likely to have been influenced by Hayy ibn Yaqzan.[dubious ] Other early modern European scholars and writers who were also influenced by Philosophus Autodidactus include Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens, George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers, Samuel Hartlib, Karl Marx, and Voltaire.
The English translation of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan was known to the Royal Society and the New England Company in North America by 1721, when Cotton Mather's The Christian Philosopher cited Hayy ibn Yaqdhan as an influence. Despite condemning the 'Mahometans' as infidels, Mather viewed the protagonist of the novel, Hayy, as a model for his ideal 'Christian philosopher' and 'monotheistic scientist'. Mather also viewed Hayy as a noble savage and applied this in the context of attempting to understand the Native American 'Indians' in order to convert them to Puritan Christianity.