Ibn Bajja, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn as-Say'igh (d. 1138)

Ibn Bajja's philosophy may be summed up in two words; al-ittisal (conjunction) and al-tawahhud (solitude). Conjunction is union with the divine realm, a union that reveals the eternal and innermost aspects of the universe. Through this union or knowledge, one is completed as a human being, and in this completion the ultimate human end, happiness, is achieved. Solitude, on the other hand, is separation from a society that is lacking in knowledge. Once united with the eternal aspects of the universe, one must isolate oneself from those who are not in the same state, who may therefore distract one from the supernatural realm through their ignorance and corruption.

  1. Life and works
  2. The human soul
  3. Intelligible forms
  4. The state of conjunction
  5. Solitude

1. Life and works

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn as-Say'igh, known as Ibn Bajja (or Avempace in the West), was born in Saragossa, Spain, at an unknown date and died in Fez in North Africa in ah 537/ad 1138. In Akhbar al-hukama' (Information About Wise People), al-Qifti mentions that Ibn Bajja died from being poisoned by rivals in the field of medicine. He was the teacher of Ibn al-Imam and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). His prominence was the result of his being the first in the West to show deep understanding of the views of some of his predecessors, such as Plato, Aristotle, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (though Ibn Bajja never directly mentions him) and al-Ghazali. Thus he served as a link between the East and the West.

Ibn al-Imam edited his teacher's works in ah 534/ad 1135. They include medical works, commentaries on Aristotle and al-Farabi and original philosophical treatises. The most important of these treatises are Tadbir al-mutawahhid (Management of the Solitary), Risalat al-wada' (Essay on Bidding Farewell) and Risalat al-ittisal al-'aql al fa''al bil-insan (Essay on the Conjunction of the Intellect with Human Beings).

In spite of the criticism directed against Ibn Bajja by some of his contemporaries, such as Ibn Tufayl, he was highly regarded even by those critics themselves. Ibn Tufayl described him as possessing 'the sharpest mind', 'the soundest reasoning' and 'the most valid opinion' of those following the first generation of thinkers. The reference here is to the Arab/Spanish thinkers who lived from the earlier part of the second half of the tenth century to the end of the eleventh century, which marks the emergence of the second generation of Arab/Spanish thinkers. The first generation is characterized by interest in learning about ancient logic and philosophy; the second, beginning with Ibn Bajja, is characterized by originality of philosophical writings. His student Ibn al-Imam describes him as the marvel of his time in depth of philosophical knowledge.

2. The human soul

The two most essential pillars on which Ibn Bajja's philosophy rests are al-ittisal (conjunction) and al-tawahhud (solitude or union). Al-ittisal is that of the philosopher with the agent intellect (the lowest celestial intelligence and home to the universals), and al-tawahhud, when used in the sense of solitude, is that of the philosopher in society. Al-tawahhud is also used in the sense of al-ittisal (union). Like his Eastern predecessors, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, Ibn Bajja was most concerned with the ultimate human objective, the intellectual or philosophical ideal, which in turn is in conjunction with the agent intellect through grasping the universals (see Universals). This conjunction results in self-completion, which is the same as happiness. To understand the ultimate human objective and the instruments through which it is attained, Ibn Bajja first traces the development of the human soul, the only means to conjunction.

The human soul, he believes, develops from the plant to the animal and finally to the rational life. The plant life is the embryonic life, which provides one with nourishment and growth. With the progress from the plant to the animal life, which is the sensitive life, one moves from mere vegetation to sensation, movement and desire. Sensation is acquired either by the five external senses or by the internal senses, the common sense, the imagination and memory. By acquiring thought, or the highest human state, one rises to the level of rational speculation. While the human soul incorporates these three states, human nature or essence as such is described as 'aql (reason or intellect). In the tradition of al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, Ibn Bajja teaches that the intellect is either potential or actual. When it is potential, it has the capacity for acquiring its proper object, the intelligible form (as-sura al-'aqliyya) or, as Ibn Bajja is fond of calling it, the spiritual form (as-sura ar-ruhaniyya), the form that belongs to the soul. When it is actual, it is identified with its object (see Soul in Islamic philosophy).

3. Intelligible forms

Four types of intelligible forms in themselves are distinguished: those of the bodies that have an eternal circular motion; those of the agent and acquired intellects (the acquired intellect being the highest level of the human intellect, which results from conjunction with the agent intellect); those of the material world, which are stripped by the external senses from external particular things; and those in the internal senses. The first are in all respects immaterial, that is, lacking any necessary relation to matter. The second are in themselves immaterial; they have only an inessential relation to matter, the agent intellect by virtue of causing the material forms and the acquired intellect by virtue of completing them. The third are essentially linked to matter; they exist in matter and are made intelligible only through the mediation of the external senses. The fourth lie between the second and the third and are therefore in part material and in part not. Since, to Ibn Bajja, immateriality necessitates universality and materiality necessitates particularity, the following conclusion is drawn: the first, second and, in part, fourth types of intelligible forms are universal, while the third and, in part, fourth are particular.

Along Greek and Islamic lines, Ibn Bajja insists that the completion of every nature is the best for that nature and its highest objective. However, the completion of a nature requires that nature to acquire its proper objects. Since the nature of being human is reason, and since the proper objects of reason are the separate forms or universals which reside in the agent intellect, to acquire these objects is to complete human nature. A human being grasps the purely material forms through the external senses and benefits from them, and grasps the forms that are somewhat purified from matter through the internal senses and also benefits from them. Grasping the separate forms through reason is, however, the most befitting to human nature, and hence is best for it. On the basis of the kind of power one uses to grasp the intelligibles, Ibn Bajja divides people into three groups: the multitudes, the theorists and the philosophers. The multitudes grasp the intelligibles with the external senses, the theorists grasp them with the internal senses and the philosophers grasp them with reason. Only the philosophers can be classified as happy, for they acquire the universals in themselves, the objects of reason.

In al-Ittisal, Ibn Bajja states that it is as if the multitudes grasp the sun as reflected in the mirror after its having been reflected in water. The theorists grasp it as reflected in water; the philosophers grasp it in itself. He compares the multitudes to people in a cave in which the sun never shines. If they are in the very inside of the cave, objects appear to them in a state of darkness; if instead they are at the entrance of the cave, objects appear to them in the shade. As the people of the cave, regardless of their place, have no idea of what it means to see the sun, so also the multitudes have no idea of what it means to grasp the intelligibles rationally. He compares the theorists, on the other hand, to those who have gone out of the cave, where they can see the sun shedding its light on things and making the colours of things visible in themselves. He does not believe, however, that the happy ones can be compared to any beings with physical vision 'since they and the thing they grasp become one'. Being in the happy state is like having vision itself transformed into light. In other words, the multitudes grasp the reflection of the reflection of a thing, the theorists grasp the reflection of a thing and the philosophers grasp the thing itself.

4. The state of conjunction

To be a philosopher, or to have conjunction with the universals in the agent intellect, is to have ultimate human happiness and to experience 'witnessing' of the truth. The happy ones are incorruptible, eternal and 'numerically one with no difference among them in themselves whatsoever'. Their instruments, or their bodies, are the only things that differentiate them from each other. They are incorruptible and eternal because the intelligibles with which they are identified are so, and are numerically one because they are all identified with the same intelligibles.

Ibn Bajja rejects the Sufi concept that the ultimate human end is the pleasure (al-ladhdha) which results from witnessing (mushahadat) the divine world internally, in a higher sensible form as presented by the common sense, imagination and memory. According to him, this amounts to saying that 'having pleasure internally is the ultimate objective of knowing the Truth through the internal senses'. However, this is not the case since this pleasure is not sought for its own sake. In support of his view, Ibn Bajja mentions among other things that if pleasure of the internal senses were the ultimate human end, then reason (which is a higher power than the internal senses) as well as its knowledge would be superfluous and futile.

Because knowledge of the internal senses is higher than that of the external senses, the objects of the former being more enduring than those of the latter, the pleasure of the internal senses is higher than that of the external senses. The assertion that the former objects are more enduring than the latter is demonstrated by the fact that one can imagine the existence of something that has ceased to exist externally. However, even knowledge of the internal senses still falls short of reaching the sublimity of the knowledge of reason since the objects of the former do not endure as much as those of the latter. Only the objects of the latter endure permanently, unaffected by the forgetfulness or even the removal of their subject. Knowledge of these permanent objects gives the knower a permanent status since the knower and the known in this case are one. It also gives the highest and most permanent pleasure. The state of happiness is one which cannot be described in language, owing to its nobility, pleasure, beauty and goodness. When human beings reach this ultimate end, they become simple intellects of which it is true to say that they are nothing but divine.

5. Solitude

The knower, or happy person, may exist in society in either a virtuous or a nonvirtuous city. A virtuous city is one whose members are all complete in knowledge, while in a nonvirtuous city the contrary is the case.

If perfected people exist in a nonvirtuous city, they must live in isolation from the rest of society, for their complete knowledge makes them 'strangers' or 'weeds', that is, those whose true opinions are contrary to the opinions of society. While isolation from society is not natural or essential for a human being in the natural or virtuous city, it is accidental to one's nature and must be practised in order to preserve oneself from the corruption of the nonvirtuous cities.

See also: Epistemology in Islamic philosophy; Ethics in Islamic philosophy; Soul in Islamic philosophy

Copyright © 1998, Routledge.

List of works

Ibn Bajja (before 1138) Rasa'il ibn Bajja al-ilahiyya (Ibn Bajja's Metaphysical Essays), ed. M. Fakhry, Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1992. (The best available collection of Ibn Bajja's sociopolitical and metaphysical treatises. It includes the most important of such treatises, Tadbir al-mutawahhid (Management of the Solitary), al-Ittisal al-'aql al-fa''al bil-insan (Essay on the Conjunction of the Intellect with Human Beings) and Risalat al-wada' (Essay on Bidding Farewell).)

Ibn Bajja (before 1138) Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, ed. P. Lettinck, Aristotle's Physics and Its Perception in the Arabic World with an Edition of the Unpublished Parts of Ibn Bajja's Commentary on the Physics, Leiden: Brill, 1994. (Includes a survey of Ibn Bajja's commentary on Aristotle's Physics, his longest commentary, and its influence on Ibn Rushd.)

References and further reading

Al-'Alawi, J.D. (1983) Mu'allafat Ibn Bajja (Ibn Bajja's Works), Beirut: Dar ath-Thaqafa. (The best available classification of Ibn Bajja's works, including a discussion of the sources and influences of their ideas.)

Goodman, L. (1996) 'Ibn Bajjah', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, ch. 21, 294-312. (Discussion of the thinker and his period, describing in detail the cultural context within which he worked.)

Ibn Rushd (1126-98) Talkhis kitab an-nafs (Summary of the Book on the Soul), ed. A.F. al-Ahwani, Cairo: Maktabat an-Nahda, 1950. (Includes Ibn Bajja's Risalat al-ittisal. Useful, not only in offering Ibn Bajja's view on the soul, but also in comparing it with those of Ishaq ibn Hunayn, al-Kindi and Ibn Rushd.)

al-Qifti, A. (c.1172) Akhbar al-hukama' (Information About Wise People), ed. J. Lippert, Leipzig: Maktabat al-Mutanabbi, 1903. (Includes a section on Ibn Bajja's life and works.)

Zainaty, G. (1979) La morale d'Avempace (The Ethics of Avempace), Paris: Vrin. (Useful overview of Ibn Bajja's metaphysics, psychology and ethics.)

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