19 March, 17.30-18.45
Oude Boteringestraat 38, Court Room
“What is essential in a human being?” This timeless philosophical enigma is at the heart of the thought of Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Ṭufayl al-Qaysī, known in Christian Europe as Abubacer. To ask “what is essential in a human?” or “what is a human essentially?” is to ask what a human really is, what predicates are applied to humans, and what role a person has in society.
Prevailing academic views of Ibn Ṭufayl’s Ḥayy b. Yaqẓān (Philosophus autodidactus) can be divided into two types: either the work is a realistic look at isolated human being amidst a morally bankrupt population, harking back to the teachings of Plato’s Republic, or it portrays a pure and abstract ideal of the spiritual life in the footsteps of the natural first man, and insists on the moral imperative of isolation.
The difficulty with both of these interpretations is that they preclude any possibility of happiness for a the human person living in a society, because they assume that every society is corrupt and imperfect. In other words, they tend to interpret Ḥayy b. Yaqẓān as an attempt to demonstrate that the human person is not essentially social. However, the intellectual and spiritual perfection sought through isolation cannot be separated from a practical purpose. The isolation of the human being is not undergone in order to distinguish him or herself from imperfect human societies. On the contrary, such isolation is undertaken in order to conduct to a higher accomplishment that is properly both practical and political.
On this basis, this paper argues that Ibn Ṭufayl’s human is comparable to the Aristotelian zoon politikon. Through a comparison of Ibn Ṭufayl’s Ḥayy, and Aristotle’s social animal we shall see how Ibn Ṭufayl reuses the concepts and the vocabulary of al-Fārābī and transposes them from the plan of the city to that of the individual. By comparing the relevant terminology, it becomes possible to illustrate how the concept of zoon politikon has entered into Arabic philosophy, and particularly in Ibn Ṭufayl’s conception of the human through the lenses of al-Fārābī’s virtuous man and Ibn Bājjah’s solitary.
Dr Corrado La Martire is head editor for the Averroes Project at the Thomas-Institut, University of Cologne. He was a lecturer at the Humboldt University in Berlin between 2015 and 2017. The topics of his research are intellectual controversies in the medieval Islam and charity, endowments and charitable institutions.