History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.