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Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Tale Paperback – 24 Nov 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Updated edition (24 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226303101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226303109
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"An enchanting and puzzling story.... The book transcends all historical and cultural environments to settle upon the questions of human life that perpetually intrigue men." - Middle East Journal "Goodman has done a service to the modern English reader by providing a readable translation of a philosophically significant allegory." - Philosophy East and West "Adds bright new pieces to an Islamic mosaic whose general shape is already known." - American Historical Review "One of the most remarkable books of the Middle Ages." - Times Literary Supplement"

About the Author

Lenn E. Goodman is Professor of Philosophy and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. His many books include The Case of the Animals vs. Man before the King of Jinn.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Starlight on 1 Jun 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an amazing book,very deep and expertly introduced and the main story is thoroughly gripping and insightful.It opens whole worlds of Spanish/Moslem culture in an utterly exemplary way.I feel very grateful to Mr Goodman for his presentation of this work.
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Amazon.com: 8 reviews
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
This book presents a significant idea 4 Jun 2010
By Israel Drazin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There are many valuable lessons in the philosopher Ibn Tufayl's twelfth century masterpiece. But what is most interesting in his parable is his view, a restatement, in clear dramatic fashion, that wise people, philosophers, and religious leaders, must refrain from telling what they understanding to the general population. This is especially true, he states, about religion. Organized religion, as understood by the masses, is necessary for the masses, but wrong for people with understanding because it is not true.

Ibn Tufayl introduces his story by telling how his predecessors hid truths from the multitude. They told one thing in books they expected the general population to read and something entirely different in books that they wrote for scholars.

Alfarabi (870-950), for example, wrote in his The Ideal Religion that the souls of wicked people live on after death and are perpetually tortured, but in his Civil Practice and in his commentary on Aristotle's Ethics - the Greek Aristotle lived from 383 BCE to 322 BCE - he wrote that the notion of life after death is plainly wrong and that "all other claims are senseless ravings and old wives' tales."

Similarly, Ibn Tufayl tells us that the philosopher Avicenna (980-1037) warned intelligent people to be careful in how they read Aristotle because "if you take everything in Aristotle (literally) you will end up far from perfection."

So too, while discussing Ghazali (1058-1111), Ibn Tufayl points out that this philosopher hid what he truly meant so that only those who were learned would understand what is true. "Most of what he said was in the form of hints and intimations, of value to those who hear them only after they have found the truth by their own insight or to someone innately gifted and primed to understand. Such men need only the subtlest hints."

Ibn Tufayl writes that he himself, despite years of study and his intelligence, had to work hard to unravel the truth from the lies he was taught by his teachers and the lies that he saw in books. They are notions that are not based on the truth but on blind faith, and are wrong.

What is the Hayy Ibn Yaqzan parable?

Hayy is either spontaneously generated on an equatorial island or is born like all humans, put in a box while he is a baby, placed in the ocean to protect him from a king who wants to kill him, and the box is washed up on the island. There are no predatory animals on the island, so Hayy is safe from being mulled by beasts. A deer finds the child, feeds him her mother deer milk, and raises him. Little by little, Hayy grows cared for by the deer, and being exceptionally intelligent, learns about nature and how to care for himself. He figures out how to protect his food from animals, how to build a store house and a door, and other matters.

When the mother deer dies, Hayy has difficulty understanding what death is. He cuts up her body and comes to believe that there is something beyond the physical that is responsible for life. By age 28, using his intelligence, he figures out that God exists, that "all actions attributed to (everything on earth) were brought about through them by another Being," and he turns his mind to study the heavenly bodies. By age 35, "Hayy found marks of wisdom and divine creativity that exhausted his power of admiration and confirmed his belief that all this could only have a Cause of consummate perfection - beyond perfection.... By now thought of this Subject was so deeply rooted in his heart that he could think of nothing else."

Thus, and this is significant to the understanding of the parable, Hayy attains true knowledge. It is irrelevant that people can argue that it is impossible to attain "true knowledge," that humans have insufficient brain power to do so. It is important to realize that this is a parable and the author is saying that Hayy attained this goal. Ibn Tufayl then spends about a dozen pages telling us how this "true understanding" shapes Hayy's behavior. This is interesting, but what is important is that Hayy, who attains "true understanding," encounters the "true religion."

In the parable, the "true religion" exists in an island close to where Hayy is living. The "true religion (is) based on the teachings of a certain ancient prophet.... Now the practice in this religion (as it is in all religions) was to represent all reality in symbols."

Two "fine young men of ability and high principle" grow up on this island: Absal and Salaman. Both study the religion and both accept it "enthusiastically. Both hold themselves duty-bound to abide by all its laws and precepts for living." But Absal "was the more deeply concerned with getting down to the heart of things, the more eager to discover spiritual values, and the more ready to attempt a more or less allegorical interpretation."

But Salaman, like most religious people today, "was more anxious to preserve the literal and less prone to seek subtle intensions. On the whole he avoided giving too free rein to his thoughts."

Absal spends many hours studying and he wants to find a place where he can seclude himself, delve into the truth underlying the symbolic teachings of the "true religion," contemplate them, and understand them. He hears about the secluded island where unbeknownst to him Hayy is living and studying the truth. He sails there and studies there as he planned.

Hayy sees him and after some time is able to learn Absal's language and speak to him. Absal tells him about the island where the "true religion" is taught and practiced. Hayy wants to see the island and its people. He hopes that he can learn from these people. So the two sail to the island.

Hayy sees two things that puzzle him. First, why did the prophet of the "true religion," who knew the truth, "rely for the most part on symbols to portray the divine world, allowing mankind to fall into the grave error of (the truth about God, the functioning of the universe, and of reward and punishment) instead of revealing the truth?"

Second, while Hayy is impressed with the religion's rituals, he can't understand why the religion does not emphasize that people should spend time studying and understand the unvarnished truth that is hinted by the symbols that they are taught.

Why did he ask these questions? This is Ibn Tufayl's significant point. It "was his naïve belief that all men (were like him and Absal and) had outstanding character, brilliant minds and resolute spirits. He had no idea how stupid, inadequate, thoughtless, and weak willed they are, `like sheep gone astray, only worse.'"

Hayy pities the people and naively hopes that he can save and improve them. Absal, who has lived among people and understands them, tries to warn Hayy that his plan cannot work. Not only are the people incapable of understanding the truths behind the symbols they are taught, they will see any attempt to teach them these truths as a threat against their religion, against the very foundations of their lives.

The people listen to Hayy at first. They marvel at his teachings, but "the moment he rose the slightest bit above the literal and began to portray things against which they were prejudiced (against their preconceived superficial notions), they recoiled in horror from his ideas and closed their minds." They are repulsed, disgusted, and angry. "Their inborn infirmity simply would not allow them" to even listen to him speak.

Looking at their faces and hearing their angry comments, Hayy understands that his goal, although important, is impossible. He "understood the human condition" and why he had failed. He now knew that the "sole benefit most people could derive from religion was for this world, in that it helped them lead decent lives without others encroaching on what belonged to them." Hayy now knew that this was why the prophet could only teach them the symbols of the truth and was unable to encourage them to delve deeper. He recognizes that while the "true religion" cannot teach people the truth, it has an important social value.

So Hayy decides to remove the agitation he created. He goes to the people and apologizes. He tells them that he was wrong. He says that he now sees the light and realizes that they are right. He urges them to hold "fast to their observance and all the statutes regulating outward behavior and not delve into things that did not concern them, submissively to accept all the most problematical elements of the tradition and shun originality and innovation, follow in the footsteps of their righteous forbears and leave behind anything modern."

Then Hayy and Absal leave the island of "true religion," sail back to the island where Hayy had learnt to truth, and the two men spend their lives there delving into and contemplating that truth.

So, Ibn Tufayl ends his dramatization of what he tells us the ancients understood. The vast majority of people cannot be taught the truth and are threatened by it.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A Long Forgotten Medieval Philosophical Novel 13 April 2010
By D. J. Spaulding - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The medieval Arab book "Hayy ibn Yaqzan" is a long forgotten philosophical novel from the so-called "Golden Age" of Islamic Spain. It was written by the philosopher Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Tufayl (known in the West as Abubacer), who served as an adviser and physician to the Spanish Almohad sultan. The story in his short novel seeks to reconcile the mystical philosophy of Avicenna (ibn Sina) and the philosophical mysticism of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and the Sufis. It tells the tale of a child raised by animals on a remote and isolated island and his gradual recognition of philosophical and mystical truths as he passes through his life. The book is of interest not just because of its interesting philosophical and religious ideas, but because of the influence it would later have in Europe during the "Enlightenment". It has been suggested that assorted literary and philosophical figures from Daniel Defoe to John Locke were familiar with the book (which was translated into Latin, English, and other European languages) and borrowed from the ideas found in it.

I would also add that Professor Goodman's introduction and footnotes are extensive and very informative. He places the book in its historical and intellectual context. The translation itself is clear and easy to read. For anyone interested in medieval Islamic philosophy or just an interesting and thought provoking read, this book is certainly worth the time.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A medieval philosophical treatise, exposed in charming literary narratives 26 May 2011
By Didaskalex - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
*****
"Hayy had died to himself, and to every other self. He had witnessed his vision and seen nothing in all existence but the ever living One. ...His true self was the truth.. ." Ibn Tufayl

Living, Son of Vigilant:
Ibn Tufayl's thought can be explored through his only known work, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, "Living Son of the Vigilant," an extended philosophical treatise, exposed in charming literary narratives. It relates the story of human knowledge, encompassing all forms of knowledge and discovery as it rises from its initial natural awareness to a mystical experience of Almighty. The focal point of the story is that human reason, after its exposure to the encountered mundane experiences, could achieve scientific knowledge, independent of religion, society, or its rules and practices. The medieval author tries to demonstrate that, since people have different potentials and capacity for understanding, even with the help of different tools, it is not wise to convey the truth to people, for its conception, except through available means. While religious truth is one and the same as that of philosophy, the former is symbolically conveyed, in a suitable means for the multitude, while the latter is transmitted in its inner meanings, without any symbolism, the way to the highest form of human knowledge, mystical experience.

Enjoy Hayy's Vigilance:
Ibn Tufayl, a rational mystic, proposes that it still remained possible for a human to participate in a rational search for God. The story of Hayy, an individual human soul living on an equatorial island, advances issues of religious philosophical education that may echo Golding's Lord of the flies. The philosophical tales of Ibn Tufayl raised the ever struggling Islamic apologies, on the anti thesis of relevant intellectual and moral issues. These were then briefly exercised within the liberal Islamic tradition of Kalam, Islamic critical Logic of philosophic issues. The bearing of this on the system of the Muwahhids cannot be mistaken, a criticism of the finality of historical revelation, it is also a defense of the attitude of the Muwahhids toward both people and philosophers.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan:
Being totally isolated from all developed modes of life, Hayy gradually grows moral awareness. He discovers desire, shame, jealousy, eagerness to possess and practical reasoning. With time and as his 'foster mother' gets old, he learns to love and realizes death as she passes away. To know is necessarily an obligation for Hayy ibn Yaqzan who desperately seeks to recognize his existence in time and locate his life in space. His search takes him through various domains of knowledge, from anatomy and physiology, to metaphysics and mysticism. Through reasoning, he arrives at the unity of existence and by himself discovers God. Imposing on himself ascetic conduct he uncovers the way to salvation and joyful happiness. At mid thirties of age, when he had never communicated with anyone else, he meets Absal; an anchorite, a refugee from a land of coventional true believers. Absal is a perfect model of a religious man, a zealot who has learnt many languages to gain mastery of scriptural exegesis. His first reaction is a deep sense of fear for his faith as he encounters an exotic being in Hayy. But his fears are dropped soon as he comes to know that Hayy does not have a clue to any language. In good faith, he tries to teach him to speak and communicate in order to make him aware of knowledge and religion. However, Absal soon discovers that Hayy is already aware of the 'truth'; which he to envision, his own intellect bears nothing except revealed symbols.

Erudite Competence:
What makes the book so meaningful for the western reader is the interpreter's style, his introduction, Biography of Ibn Tufyl, and his thorough notes to clarify the text. Whereas, his translation removes the linguistic barriers, his commentary reduces the centuries of thought alienation between two immiscible cultures of east and west and offers consultative guidance to middle eastern students. Goodman's credentials made his professor suggest he translates this Philosophical romance. Goodman gratifying success in other challenging tasks may be rooted in his analytical talent, and persevering erudition, and expertise in history of Islamic philosophy, mastery of Eastern Languages, a travel into medieval times bringing to life, vividly those fine human thoughts.

F. Zimmermann, Oxford's Islamic philosopher, expresses the indebtedness of Islamic philosophy students to Goodman scholarship and continued efforts. Goodman's extensive historical competence, and insightful Rabbinic erudition has supported him in producing Rambam on Maimonides philosophy, in translation and commentary has equally allowed him enrich the curious reader on fascinating harmony of a genuine work of Islamic philosophy, sarcastic and yet rich in symbolic reality.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
a philosophical novel way ahead of its time. 13 Sep 2011
By Peter E. Browne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Traditionally much importance is attached to Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and his commentaries on Aristotle. And yet brilliant as Ibn Rushd was, he was not a creative writer. And yet his teacher, Ibn Tufayl, was a fine novelist, and way ahead of his time. HAYY IBN YAQDHAN is definitely one of the most interesting books to have fallen into my hands during my life span.
On the other hand, the canon of Spanish literature seen in the anthologies reflects sheer ignorance, or far worse, an agenda of distortion. Spanish literature did not begin with the jarchas and the Cantar del Mio Cid as we are led to believe. It began with brilliant and sofisticated works like HAYY IBN YAQDHAN, written not in Castillian, but in Arabic.
The present translation into modern English is clear and most readable. The abundant notes and commmentaries included in the volume are for the most part quite valuable. Let us shed our thick skins of ethnocentricism and literary stupidity and turn to this true gem of Medieval Spanish literature (although much of it sounds more modern than medieval).
Great Story! 3 Oct 2014
By Avery - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is great for anyone interested in natural philosophy (the Islamic tradition is also often neglected). Its well written and has a great and detailed introduction on many philosophical themes touched in the book. Would also recommend to any science fiction lovers, because beneath the philosophy is simply a great story!
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